McFarlane was born in Gore and educated at Otago Girls' High School, and studied teaching at Dunedin Teachers' College. McFarlane taught Art in New Zealand schools from 1950-1952, before moving to London where she taught in the mid-1950s.
During the 1960s and 1970s she served on the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, and was President of the Otago Art Society during the 1960s. Until 1975, she served on the Otago Theatre Trust Committee, on the Dunedin Public Art Gallery Council, and was President of the Dunedin Civic Arts Council. She was also a prominent campaigner to preserve several historic Dunedin buildings.
As a journalist during the period from 1960-1974, McFarlane was women's editor of the Dunedin Star, one of the two major daily newspapers in that city.
McFarlane survived breast cancer in the early 1970s, and became a prominent campaigner for more government funding for early detection and intervention in the illness.
She was also vice president of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts for many years.
McFarlane wrote several books, and was widely commissioned throughout New Zealand for major art works. The Shona McFarlane Art Gallery in Dunedin was named after her, as well as the Shona McFarlane retirement village in Wellington.
McFarlane wrote six books, and her paintings appear primarily in museums, art galleries, and private collections.
- MBE, 1974
- CBE, 1994 New Year Honours
- Governor General's Art Award, 1994 - from New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts
- National Bank Art Award 1974
|Library resources about
|By Shona McFarlane|
- Dunedin, Portrait of a City (1970) ISBN 978-0-7233-0171-4
- Mixed Media (1975) ISBN 978-0-7233-0455-5
- Of Cabbages And Things (1981) ISBN 978-0-7233-0626-9
- From Maungaraki (1983) ISBN 978-0-7233-0707-5
- White Moas and Artichokes (1993) ISBN 978-0-908790-74-6
- Shona McFarlane: A Memoir (1999) ISBN 978-0-14-028481-2
- London Gazette (supplement), No. 53528, 30 December 1993. Retrieved 9 January 2013.
- Fellowship: New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts. Retrieved 10 January 2013.