‘Together, we build personal and collective creative capability and solidarity.’
Greeted by a warm smile and a hug, Kate welcomed me to the New Zealand Pacific Studio. Driving though a mostly rural area with an off-the-beaten-track charm, I was now destined to reside in the Wairarapa.
After much research, changing dates, toing and froing of emails with owner Lynette, I was pleased to be offered the opportunity at an amazing art residency hub in the historic home Normandell. Rather than a solo artist residency, my role was to be the House Manager, alongside continuing my own art practise. The House Manager essentially is the first port of call for artists, providing information, transport…and was to become so much more.
NZPS offers a welcoming home for the arts in the hills of the Wairarapa. A non-profit international residency centre founded in 2001 by Kay Flavell, who purchased the somewhat derelict home after viewing just 2 photographs online. Kay had a vision and lovingly restored this historic home. The 5-acre facility has 7 work-spaces and is open year-round. It welcomes applicants living in New Zealand or abroad, promoting cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary dialogue.
An artist residency – what is that exactly? Much like my experience at Earthskin Muriwai, an artist residency provides writers / artists / environmentalists / researchers with space to work on a project of their design. Offering dedicated time and headspace for the work to emerge. They often also run workshops, performances, exhibitions, and Open Studio Days with the community.
The unique pull of this particular artist residency a few minutes from rolling hills and the Tararua Mountains was the history of the house and family that had lived there. The Normandell House, built in 1911, serves as the centre of the facility and is surrounded by woodland gardens that are beautiful in any season. Summers can get very warm, and winters quite chilly, but nothing that a cosy fire can’t fix. There are seven unique work-spaces. Since 2001, about 500 artists from New Zealand and abroad have lived and worked at the centre. They have made connections that enrich their practice and the local and shared communities.
Kate, House Manager from Canada was passing the torch after enriching the space with her support and vision for half the year. A few days handover and training and I began to settle into the Burton Room – named after Christopher Burton the British clockmaker to whom the house was built. There was instant feel good energy and a pleasant few days spent with Kate who was a joy to be around, opening up and sharing almost weirdly parallel ways in which our lives and relationships were working out. Together we ate beautiful food (Kate is a real foody) and enjoyed a hike up Mount Bruce, which soon became a ritual in my time at NZPS (along with feeding the gigantic eels!). The views are spectacular after around a 2 hr loop track through the wonderful Pukaha Wildlife Centre, and native bush. It also houses many protected birdlife including the one and only white adorable Kiwi – Manukura.
John, a painter from LA arrived late after travelling from a previous residency in the Blue Mountains of Australia. At heart, a traditional painter of plein air that touches upon his Mexican heritage with symbolic Frida Kahlo-esque imagery and narrative. Very comfortable in his own skin he emerged from the Mason room late the following day in a poncho and green cowboy hat. We took a trip out to Masterton to pick up Tomoko Yamashita also a painter, this time from Japan.
Tomoko was a sweet gentle presence, her studio was the beautiful loft space, which still has Christopher’s Burton’s desk and tools beside the window overlooking the woodland garden. Sometimes lost in translation, although quietly keen to sing and dance, Tomoko wanted to play games and enjoy as much New Zealand sightseeing with us as possible. Myself, John and Tomoko spent the next week together, the guys settling in to some work and most mealtimes enjoying getting to know each other. The dynamics of the house were beginning to change as we started to become a little family, gathering around the fire each night, sharing life stories and work in progress.
Although still relatively quiet in the house, all of that was about to change as we welcomed Rodji Munoz and Leah Milanovic on the same day. Rodji was a super talented photographer from, well funnily enough, around 20 minutes away from John in the US! A commercial photographer having taken shots for popular brands as well as awesome live music captures. She was taking only a few days at NZPS to work on a more personal project. We were later that day joined by a new force of kooky energy- Leah a writer from Australia who had been awarded the Lavinia Winter fellowship at the studio.
All of a similar age and mind-set, it wasn’t long before we were dancing around the lounge together. Pot luck dinners were my new favourite thing and we found any excuse to do them. It’s the perfect fun way to socialise, helping each other with cooking, learning about dishes and foods you’re often unfamiliar with, all helped down with a good drink or three, card games and a boogie. Rodji and Leah’s first night involved all of these fine things over a Mexican meal cooked by John, later joined by Hendrik for an unforgettable gathering with perfectly posed photos, representing just how synchronised we were 🙂
I’d become somewhat of a mother hen, which I enjoyed really. I had my routines in place with firewood, laundry and admin, with enough time to finish of a series of art work. These guys really wanted to have so much fun on their first trip to New Zealand and I was more than happy to be the tour guide for them. A quiet conversation with Hendrik that night I suggested it would be sad if these guys didn’t get to experience the beauty of glow-worms whilst in New Zealand. After approximately 30 seconds of deciding I offered them a daytrip up towards the Apiti Tavern and a chance to see the glow-worms ‘Beers n worms’ was born. After talking about my caving adventures it would’ve been a terrible loss if these guys didn’t get to experience them whilst in New Zealand.
The SH2 heading towards Wellington offers a selection of quaint little towns offering good coffee shops, op shops, art galleries and heading toward Martinborough you reach the wineries. Although not the prime time of year, we still gave these a ‘taste test’, with a wooden lodge offering delicious wood fired pizza and free cider nearby!
The studio has a board of 12 members each helping towards the running of the residency, who often came round for pot luck meals (yup pot luck again) they were always fun to converse with and offered an opportunity for Leah and John to have an impromptu audience before getting involved in The National Poetry Day reading at the nearby Aratoi Museum of Art & History. Leah was great! If a little nervous, she was natural and engaging with her reading. I felt like a proud mum.
Over the 2 months I have met so many different people, enriching the experience much more than I could have ever imagined. Karen the housekeeper paid a visit each week to discuss usually the most random topics over a cup of coffee, I’ll miss this routine. Michelle from Glowing dropped by for a cuppa one morning, revisiting nearby Eketahuna – where she grew up, this should be the last time I see Michelle…for a while now anyway 😉
Sad goodbyes were inevitable, it’s all part of the process. In my downtime I did find opportunity to finish a series of artworks, which are now to be exhibited in the Consignment Gallery in Feilding. I used the studio of the self-contained Norwegian-style Cottage whilst no one was residing in there, and it felt good to have found a way of creating that resulted in a more cohesive group of works.
Residents Kaye, a painter from Australia and Antonia, a writer from Wellington joined the house for a week. A much quieter, reflective time was had – one of the lasting pieces of information Kate gave me was that everybody will be ‘going through something’, how right she was. We were joined one evening by Janina who I’d met in Kaitaia whilst mandarin picking and happened to bump in to in Masterton, where she was now staying with her partner Theus.
Owners Lynette and Ian were busy putting some love and maintenance back in to the property as spring had sprung. Such a sweet couple who I feel sad to leave – they made me feel so welcomed. I was only short of a couple of hours away from Hendrik now, meaning we’d get to see each other most weeks, funnily enough he was quite keen to join in when lush food, tasty drink and fun company was involved. We got a couple of hikes in, including the glow worm cave in the daylight, it was so special to see this incredible space we’d only imagined existed in the darkness of the worms.
It was the last time I’d see the Tavern.. we gave it an overhaul, cleared, tidied, fixed and made it homely for a hectic but exciting summer. We took the opportunity of a local horse ride (I was an avid rider many years ago). As we galloped through ice and snow, like we’d been riding together for years, I began to think of closure as this adventure comes to an end.Tomorrow we head to the South Island for 2 weeks, adventuring and exploring the most beautiful sights. It is with a mixture of excitement and anxiety that I think about the path afterwards, the journey home for a different chapter.
Until then, here’s to enjoying every moment ❤
Soundtrack: Gladys Knight – Midnight Train To Georgia, Ben Howard – The Fear, Fleet Foxes – Blue Ridge Mountains, The XX – On Hold