Art story of Suzanne Aubert’s medicines

WelCom August 2020 Sue Seconi Regular exhibitor and artist Emma Cunningham from Whanganui displayed her collection of six pieces expressing the story of Suzanne Aubert and her medicines at Whanganui’s…

WelCom August 2020

Sue Seconi

Art story of Suzanne Aubert’s medicines Archdiocese of Wellington
Emma is holding Paramo, involving four plants of kawakawa, karana, manuka and harakeke. The rosary beads are made of
flax seeds set in test tubes. Photo: Supplied

Regular exhibitor and artist Emma Cunningham from Whanganui displayed her collection of six pieces expressing the story of Suzanne Aubert and her medicines at Whanganui’s Space Studio and Gallery in June this year. 

Emma first heard about Suzanne Aubert when boarding at then Sacred Heart College. With a deep consciousness of native flora and respect for the environment, Emma took an instant interest in Suzanne Aubert’s medicines developed from plants. 

Emma named her pieces after New Zealand’s ‘Saint-in-the-Making’s’ most common herbal remedies of Marupa, Karana, Natanata, Paramo, Hapete and Romino. Plants associated with each medicine were depicted in each work. 

‘They are contemporary sculptural works involving collage, varnish on wood with a galvanised steel frame,’ Emma said.

Suzanne was quite secretive with her recipes. Even the Sisters who assisted her never knew the complete process even though they were instructed to get Suzanne at the evaporation stage in particular. Wellington’s Evening Post of the time describes the medicines as ‘the chief proprietary medicine of New Zealand’.

Some 30,000 bottles were sold within the first three months in Wellington alone. When Suzanne learnt that Kempthorne and Prosser [New Zealand drug manufacturing company], who were commercially manufacturing her remedies, were diluting the concentrate to keep up with the demand, she took them to court, which upheld her case. 

Deeply pained at what happened, story has it that Suzanne placed the recipes into the Whanganui River to protect Māori knowledge.