History of Ikebana International Wellington Chapter #158

On 6 August 1970 the Wellington Chapter of Ikebana International was founded at a meeting held in the Japan Information and Cultural Centre of the Embassy of Japan – but the real beginnings were years earlier!

On 20 November 1962 a group of enthusiasts, led by Mrs Gretel Lewis, met together with the idea of forming a Study Group. Gretel Lewis is a teacher of the Koryu Shotokai School and at that time was the only teacher conducting classes in Ikebana in Wellington. The minutes of the original meeting are held in the Chapter’s archives.

In spite of sustained enthusiasm and effort, an established branch did not eventuate but Gretel Lewis continued to dream of I.I. in Wellington and when Ruth Scott returned to the city late in 1968, Gretel lost no time in urging her to start a prospective chapter.

Ruth Scott (left) with Wellington Ikebana members

For 10 years from 1953 to 1963, Ruth Copland Scott lived in Tokyo where her late husband was then Commercial Counsellor at the New Zealand Embassy. She was a foundation member of Ikebana International and served as its 3rd International President from 1961 to 1963 during which time she attended the First I.I. Conference in Washington and the First I.I. Conference in Sacramento.

While in Japan Ruth studied with the Ohara, Ikenobo and Sogestsu Schools of Ikebana, her main school being the Ohara School. She also studied the Japanese dance and the beautiful Japanese harp – the “koto”.

From 1964 to 1968 the Scotts were in New York where Ruth served on the Board of the New York Chapter and was appointed by Tokyo Headquarters as Liaison between North American Chapters and Headquarters and Advisor to the Boston Chapter for their forthcoming conference. Who better to start a chapter in Wellington?

In 1969 the Auckland Chapter of Ikebana International held the Australia/New Zealand Regional Conference with Headmaster Houn Ohara of the Ohara School of Ikebana as the guest demonstrator from Japan. As Wellington had no Chapter of Ikebana International an invitation was extended to Headmaster Houn Ohara to visit Wellington. James Smith Limited, hosted Headmaster Ohara and Professor Kudo. In the large store gallery demonstrations and Ikebana lessons took place. Superb publicity of television and newspaper coverage, together with a front page photograph and an interview in the New Zealand Gardener resulted in well attended classes. Many who attended went on to study Ikebana at the Wellington High School.

Because of assistance from the Wellington Botanical Gardens, Headmaster Ohara made in 1970 a substantial donation to the gardens in appreciation. Norman Sparnon, Master of the Sogetsu School of Ikebana made frequent visits from Australia to New Zealand and was keen to promote an Ikebana International Chapter in Wellington.

Through the efforts of Ruth Scott and those of a small group of enthusiasts a meeting on 6 August 1970 was held and attracted over 80 people – many more than expected! The meeting was attended by the late Dame Norma Holyoake, DCMG, wife of the then Prime Minister of New Zealand; the Ambassador of Japan, H.E. Mr Kenichiro Yoshida, and the Hon. D.C. Seath, then Minister of Internal Affairs. Both the Ambassador and Mr Seath addressed the meeting, emphasising the importance of such cultural ties between nations and their contribution to mutual understanding between peoples.

A formal proposal that a Chapter be formed was made in 1970, seconded and accepted and the Wellington Prospective Chapter came into being. 42 ladies joined that day and a committee with Ruth Scott as the first President was elected. On that day also both Dame Norma (then Lady Holyoake) and the wife of the Ambassador of Japan agreed to become Patronesses of the Chapter. Dame Norma continued in the capacity until her death in December 1984 and throughout those years was unfailing in her interest and support. The Chapter has been fortunate also in having a Co-Patroness the wife of the serving Ambassador of Japan in New Zealand.