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Wilfrid Nelson Isaac

Wilfrid Nelson Isaac was born in Kyneton, Victoria, Australia on March 30, 1893.  By the time of his death on June 15, 1972, Isaac was renowned as a skilled jeweler, enameller, metalworker, and art school director with a penchant for incorporating many indigenous New Zealand elements and materials into his pieces.

Mr. Isaac studied metalwork, jewelry, and enameling under George R. Pitkethly while attending Wellington Technical College in 1907.  At Wellington, Mr. Isaac excelled as a student, winning numerous prizes and commendations at national competitions and eventually exhibiting his metalwork and paintings at the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts.  After graduation in 1913, he taught at the Dunedin School of Art and Design for two years until he joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  During this time, Isaac served in Egypt and France, where he was a corporal in the New Zealand Medical Corps and the New Zealand Field Ambulance. 

Because of his service in the New Zealand Expeditionary Force from 1919-1922, he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art in London where he was elected an associate of the college after only one year.  After leaving the Royal College of Art, he taught at Elam School of Art and Southland Technical College before returning to Wellington as an instructor in applied art and design.  After only one year after his return, he became head of the art school. 

Winfrid Nelson Isaac’s father was a practicing metalworker, carver, and clockmaker as well.  Presumably, this had a strong impact on his career choice, where his style evolved from the Arts and Crafts movement favored both by Wellington and the Royal College of Art.  This movement draws on historical styles and techniques from medieval times, and Isaac preferred this work in silver in comparison to gold.  

Isaac designed and made some of the most important publicly commissioned silver in New Zealand during the mid twentieth century.  His commissions include: the Anglican primatial cross, created for Archbishop A. W. Averill in 1926  (considered one of his finest works), two silver trophies for the Bledisloe Cup, the governor Lord Bledisloe’s rugby cup, a pectoral cross for Archdeacon E. J. Rich when he was appointed assistant bishop to the primate of New Zealand in 1952, and lastly a gold chalice and paten for St. Benedict’s Church in Auckland in 1969 as his last public commission.