Atama Paparangi was chief of the Taumai hapu of the Rarawa tribe. He was a famous warrior and fought at Kororareka with Tamati Waaka Nene’s men against Hone Heke. Atama also fought at Okaihau. In later years he became patriarch of his tribe. He lived at Mitimiti, on the coast between Hokianga and Whangape.
Occasionally Atama travelled down to Auckland, and appeared around the streets dressed in a frock coat and top hat. He travelled to Auckland in 1901 to attend the official functions during the Royal visit by the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York. Charles Frederick Goldie probably made his acquaintance at that time, although his first painting of Atama Paparangi dates from 1912. Goldie was obviously keen to show Atama had a striking tattoo executed at Pupuwai by the famous tattooist Huitara. Although not complete, the tattoo was a fine example of the ancient art. The pair became such good friends, Atama wrote a letter to Goldie as follows:
Mitimiti, Hokianga, August 3rd, 1914 (translation)
To Mr Goldie, The Painter of Portraits, Auckland
Oh Son! Greetings! This letter is to thank you for my picture which arrived a few days ago. Great is the admiration of my tribe at the beauty of your work. Enough! I will now express my feelings towards you.
‘A voice from the skies makes music to the ear. It is that of a shining breasted cuckoo the harbinger of spring. The trees of the forest have bedecked themselves in their summer raiment. The sea is red with the blossoms of the Pohutukawa. The clematis in the forest glade has burst into flower, creating vistas of beauty. The myriad graceful trees of the woods augment the scene. They are like unto a bridal pair with their retinue, awaiting the guides who will lead them to the perfect happiness, which knows no end. Such are the feelings of my heart for you. Many are the wishes beautiful and good that I would wish you, but words fail. The sum of the words of greeting, of love and of good fellowship as expressed in this phase: ‘May health and prosperity attend you and all whom you love’.
The old chief stood over six feet high and was a hundred years old when he died in 1917. Atama became one of Goldie’s favourite subjects in the 1930s. He painted several portraits of the old chief after his death for submission to the Royal Academy and Paris Salon.
After graduating from Elam, Vera Cummings later painted alongside Goldie often sharing the same models. In 1906 she became a pupil of his. Their models were generally elderly Maori who lived in the Maori hostel near Parnell. Vera herself lived in Parnell near Judges Bay for nearly 60 years. During this period she produced her almost unique landscape – a picture of Judges Bay without road or railway.
Her studies of Maori people were in great demand from overseas buyers. Beside the subjects she shared with Goldie she painted many other people from in and around Auckland.