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Lost art work finds home at last in famous Samoan hotel

Aug 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Featured Article, Front Page Layout, News

A PAINTING caught up in the stock-market crash of the 1980s has finally found its way back to Samoa.

The painting depicts Coronation Bridge and the original site of the famous Aggie Grey’s Hotel in Apia, and is by an unknown artist.

The work was loaned by the Samoan Consulate to Eldon Bennett for display in his stationary shop, just a few doors down from the Samoan Consulate on Auckland’s Karangahape Rd.

The painting was forgotten when Mr Bennett had to leave his shop in July 1986 in the leadup to the 1987 sharemarket crash, due to the rent being doubled as a result of the stockmarket crash.

Around the same time in Samoa, the original Aggie Grey’s Hotel depicted in the work, was being demolished and rebuilt.  

After his death in 1993, Mr Bennett’s daughter Judy discovered the painting among his effects.

The painting was moved to Wellington in 1995, where it remained as unfinished business in the back of Judy’s mind.

She tried many times over the years to find a rightful owner for the piece.

“We thought about donating it to Samoan tsunami relief  in 2009,” she says, before eventually deciding that the price it would fetch wouldn’t represent the sentimental value it might have to someone.  

After periodical emails to everyone she could think of to try and find a rightful owner, she happened to mention it to a colleague at Whitireia polytechnic – Dean of Arts Kaye Jujnovich – who was about to visit Samoa for the polytechnic.

After offering the painting to the Museum of Samoa, it was discovered that the painting depicted the site of the famous hotel.

It was offered to Aggie’s son Alan Grey, current manager of the famous hotel.

“We took the painting in, and he [Alan] was delighted with it. They are going to put it up on the wall of the main foyer.”

The painting is dated 1966 and bares the signature “Burns” as well as a “Not for sale” mark, but apart from that little is known about its history.

“Aggie’s” as the hotel is affectionately known, is the most well known hotel in Samoa.

The hotel’s website states it began life in 1933 as the British Club, quickly gaining a reputation as a welcoming atmosphere, where guests would leave as friends of the Grey family.

“Aggie’s”, as it came to be known, played host to many US servicemen during World War II before enjoying a star-studded post-war guest book, including names such as Marlon Brando and Raymond Burr.

The business, which is still run by the Grey family, has since expanded, and now owns a beach resort in addition to the hotel and employs over 300 staff.

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is A Journalism Student at Whitireia in Wellington, New Zealand. His specialty areas are digital culture, politics and cyber-crime.
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