McFarlane, Shona

McFarlane, Shona

In Brief

Artist, journalist and art teacher Shona McFarlane was known to many New Zealanders from her time as a panellist on the television programme ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ She published numerous books of her colourful paintings, often coupled with anecdotal accounts of her life experiences. Before her death in 2001, she published Shona McFarlane: A Memoir.


McFARLANE, Shona (1929 - 2001) was an artist and former journalist and teacher of art. She is known to many New Zealanders from her time as a panellist on the television programme 'Beauty and the Beast'.

McFarlane has published numerous books featuring her colourful paintings, often coupled with anecdotal accounts of her life's experiences. Her titles are Dunedin: Portrait of a City (1970); Mixed Media (1975); Of Cabbages and Things (1980); From Maungaraki (1983); and White Moas and Artichokes (1993).

Her most recent title is the popular Shona McFarlane: A Memoir (1999).



Born in Gore, Shona McFarlane grew up in Lawrence and Dunedin, and trained as an art specialist at Dunedin Teachers' College from 1946-49.

She travelled overseas to further her studies, including at London's Hammersmith School of Art and Goldsmiths College. On her return to New Zealand, she switched from teaching to journalism in 1960 and was for twelve years women's editor of the Evening Star in Dunedin. During this time, painting continued to be a major interest and she exhibited throughout the country.

McFarlane was a notable campaigner for the preservation of Dunedin’s significant historic buildings in the 1960s, during which time she was also President of the Otago Art Society and the Dunedin Civic Arts Council.

In 1969, McFarlane was the first woman to be appointed to the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, where she stayed until 1975, and served as Chair of its Visual Arts Advisory Committee.

Defeating breast cancer in the early 1970s led to her committed campaign for increased government funding for the disease’s early detection and intervention.

In 1973, McFarlane was awarded an MBE for services to the arts. In 1976, she married Allan Highet, a National Minister of Internal Affairs and Minister of the Arts, who she met through her work on the Arts Council.

A single woman for most of her life and fiercely independent, McFarlane said she had no great urge to be married or have children as she was driven by her painting. When interviewed by the Otago Daily Times in 1998 she said: "I think there have been strong women in painting from Frances Hodgkins and beyond. Women have shone through the whole of New Zealand art, except as always for the time-honoured problems of marriage and children which limited women very much and still do to a great extent, whereas men had a wife to do the cooking and look after them. I always said what a woman artist needs is a wife!"

In 1994, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her paintings, etchings and monoprints are widely held in galleries, museums and private collections.

Shona McFarlane died in Wellington in September 2001. A Ryman Healthcare retirement village in Lower Hutt is named after her, as is the Shona McFarlane Gallery in Dunedin.


McFarlane's Wikipedia page

Otago Daily Times: Showing more than its subject

Updated April 2022.