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Dr Deirdre Airey QSM, MD

by Mercy Spirituality Centre - 20/Aug/2003
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Dr Deirdre Airey QSM, MD
9 December 1926 – 16 August 2002

Deirdre Airey, a much loved doctor, artist and woman of faith practiced medicine for some thirty years throughout the Coromandel Peninsula. 

Born in Christchurch in 1926, Deirdre was the daughter of Professor Bill Airey and his wife Isobel. Deirdre attended   Epsom Girls’   Grammar   and   Otago    medical School, graduating in 1951.   Deirdre practised medicine in Auckland, then travelled in Britain and Europe, before coming home to settle in the   Coromandel in 1960.

Deirdre was influenced by the Italian masters during her travels in Europe. She also learned much from New Zealand artists including Colin McCahon, and many of her scriptural scenes are set unmistakeably in the local landscape, for example, her ‘Annunciation’, where the angel comes to visit Mary in her Coromandel cottage. She also amassed a collection of paintings, drawings, pottery, and books, including the works of  Shakespeare.

Upon her return to NZ Deirdre was appointed  part-time superintendent of the Coromandel hospital with the right of private practice.  Deirdre made her tiles from local Coromandel clay. Inspired by some early relief tiles by her friend Barry Brickell, she started working in clay for recreation and as a means for expressing her interest in religious art.They were then wood-fired at Driving Creek Pottery. She loved the variation in colour and slight glaze achieved by this method of firing.

A convert to Catholicism with a deep love for the Bible, Deirdre found in her art a way to explore and express her faith. Almost all her tiles are based on passages from the Gospels. . . .

On retirement, Deirdre devoted her artistic gifts to prayerfully sculpting Scriptural carvings in clay.  With her surgical scalpel, she depicted scenes from the New Testament which were inspired by her personal contemplation of the life and sufferings of Christ.  Dr Airey's work is in churches, in private and public collections and has been purchased by the National Gallery of New Zealand.

These sculptured tiles give expression to Deirdre’s life, her love of God and of people, for she not only worked with clay but also allowed herself to be clay moulded by the God she loved.

Each tile is more than a work of art - it is  also an expression of Deirdre Airey’s deeply cherished Catholic faith and her contemplative spirit. Her spiritual mentor was the late Fr Theo Van Lieshout, who was parish priest of Raglan before moving to the Coromandel in 1982.

Deirdre created each of her tiles after many hours of prayer and silent reflection on the sacred events of the Gospels. The tiles themselves have the   characteristics of icons that draw the viewer into the mysteries they represent.

Mercy Spirituality Centre, 104 The Drive, Epsom, Auckland 1023 Aotearoa New Zealand
09 638 6238

If you would like to see a larger set of Deirdre's tiles please go to

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