Mountford Tosswill Woollaston was born at Toko, Stratford, on 11 April 1910, and raised with four brothers on a dairy farm near Huinga, in the Taranaki back blocks.
Woollaston’s early artistic ambition was to write poetry. Inspired by the English Romantics, especially Shelley, it was as an aspiring poet that he arrived in the Nelson area in 1928 to earn a living as a horticultural worker.
With the encouragement of a friend, Ursula Bethell, Woollaston made his way to Dunedin in 1932 to study at the Dunedin School of Art, under the Englishman Robert Nettleton Field. By 1980 Woollaston was perhaps New Zealand’s most widely known contemporary painter. That year he published Sage Tea, his lyrical account of his childhood in Taranaki and his early adult life. In 1979 he had been knighted for his services to painting.
M T Woolaston was one of the first exhibiting artists in the history of the gallery, in September 1968.