Arnold Manaaki Wilson (Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Arawa) was a pioneering twentieth-century sculptor and educator, and a pioneer of the Māori Modernist movement. Wilson began his education at Ruatoki Native School, and was subsequently awarded a scholarship to attend Wellesley College in Auckland, going on to attend the University of Auckland’s Elam School of Fine Arts, from which he graduated in 1955 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts—the first Māori person to do so. While at Elam, Wilson was mentored by the modernist John Weeks and the classically trained Irish sculptor John F. Kavanagh. After graduating, Wilson began to incorporate elements of traditional Māori art into his work, although he often made use of non-traditional materials and techniques. After Elam, Wilson went on to Teacher’s Training College, like so many of his artistic peers.
Wilson’s artistic practice was paralleled by his career as an educator. Wilson, along with many other Māori artists of his generation, was strongly influenced by programs put in place by National Supervisor of Arts and Crafts Gordon Tovey, who was committed to the idea of incorporating Māori visual arts into New Zealand’s educational curriculum. During a long career as a teacher, Wilson taught at Bay of Islands College, Kaipara College and Mt. Albert Grammar, and was also the Director of Te Mauri Pakeaka, the Department of Education’s Cross-Cultural Community Involvement Arts Programme, from 1975-1989. Wilson was also a kaumātua at Awataha, the first marae on Auckland’s North Shore, which he envisaged as a new kind of inclusive urban marae. Wilson was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2010, in recognition of a lifetime of service to the arts and to Māori.