Recording the history of the Fine Arts Library

Variously known as the Auckland Free School of Art, the Free School of Art and the Campbell Free School of Art, an art school was founded in November 1878 by Sir John Logan Campbell (1817-1912), who believed that Auckland was in need of such a school.

The school was originally housed in one of the Auckland Museum’s earlier locations on Princes Street (this building no longer exists ), close to the Emily Place Reserve. Classes were held in the Lecture Hall & the Main Hall. The school closed at the end of 1889 with the establishment of the Elam School of Art and Design.

Ref: 4-RIC99, the Auckland Institute and Museum on the corner of Princes Street and Eden Crescent, c. 1880-1909, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Elam was established in 1889  following the bequest of Dr John Edward Elam. Dr Elam was a patron of the arts and he gifted a large sum of money towards the establishment of a free art school for Auckland. The school was located in Symonds Street, Central Auckland in the old Grammar School buildings. Also housed in the building were the Workers’ Educational Association and the Goodwin Marionette Theatre.

Ref: 1-W937, old Grammar School on Symonds St, Sir George Grey Special Collections
The next change came in 1950, when the Elam School of Fine Arts amalgamated with the Auckland University College. This has been previously discussed in the 1930s and 1940s but a destructive fire in 1949 was the push needed for this to happen.

Over time, the Fine Arts Library has become an important and comprehensive, nationally recognised specialist art library. To mark the importance of this library, the first history of the Fine Arts Library has been written by Victoria Passau, Client Services Librarian at the Fine Arts Library and is available through the LIANZA website. The history has been put together using primary sources, including institutional records and oral histories of former and current library staff.
Ref: AWNS-19050817-8-2, the Director and staff at Elam School of Fine Arts, 1905, Sir George Grey Special Collections


  1. Hello

    Thanks for the great post. I had a great time writing the article and extending my institutional knowledge.

    The Fine Arts Library staff are really proud of our Libray and enjoy supporting the students and staff of Elam and the Department of Art History.

    Members of the public are also welcome to visit the collection.



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