Taranaki Arts Trail – in for the long haul

Words by  Virginia Winder

A whole bunch of artists opened for the entire 10 days of last year’s Taranaki Arts Trail, and even more are doing so this year.

For the 2021 event, 45 studios out of 84 (53.5%) were open for the whole time, and this year, 48 out of 79 (60.7%) will keep their doors open every day from October 28 to November 6.

Four artists facing their second 10-day stint talk of the positives of being open for the long haul.

During the trail, Mike Brown, a bone carver from Tongaporutu, collaborates with sculptor and woodworker Geoffrey Young by sharing premises on Brooklands Rd.

“For me it was uplifting, I enjoyed the 10 days, although I have to say it was quiet during the weekdays,” he says. “I went with an intention to work… so it was an undistracted period of time when I could just get on and do my carving.” 

But when people did turn up during those quiet times – particularly when bad weather hit – it was the highlight of the day for Mike. He was able to chat about the meanings behind his cow bone works, share and hear ideas, and connect deeply with people.

People, communities and nature are the inspiration behind his abstract pieces. 

Mike has simple advice for other artists opening for 10 days: “Treat it as an opportunity to do your art. Just enjoy the peace and quiet and solitude to do your art and treat any visit as a bonus.”

He will be collaborating with Geoffrey again this year.

Stratford-based oil painter Jo Stallard is a figurative artist who works in a classical style. She paints many portrait commissions, particularly of children, and her figurative works are based on Shakespeare and classical mythology.

She co-owns Fenton St Arts Collective, which contains a downstairs gallery, café, distillery and shop. Her studio is upstairs.

Opening for 10 days suits Jo. “I enjoy it because I can talk to people… it does get a little bit fatiguing, but you gain a lot from it by talking to people about what they’re doing and the art they’re enjoying.”

From meeting people, Jo has picked up artists to show in the gallery. 

Her tip for coping with the long stretch is to have support. “It’s good to have someone else in the studio with you, so they give you a break.”

She’s a big fan of the collaboration between the arts trail, Centuria Taranaki Garden Festival and Taranaki Sustainable Backyards Trail. 

“I think it works a lot better than in the middle of the year on its own (like it used to be). We found, when it was wet, a lot of the gardeners came into the café and went around a lot of the galleries (studios),” Jo says.

“I think it’s a fabulous thing for artists in our area and I think our reputation nationwide is picking up.” 

Ōākura painter Margaret Scott says opening for 10 days provides an opportunity for groups to visit, including those from schools. “I’m an ex-teacher, so it’s good to be able to show them my workbooks and how I source for my art. People like to know the background to a painting.”

Well-known for her paua, sea, garden, flower and cow paintings, Margaret calls her work “personal symbolism”. 

Also, in the Ōākura Arts Trail, she’s a seasoned open studio owner, who believes trail artists need to be prepared to talk about their work and give advice on technical things. “That’s my big thing about art, because you have this skill, it’s not just ours to keep to ourselves – the most important thing is to share with people.”

New Plymouth rock carver Michelle Parker opened for the first time last year – and she was prepared.

Knowing she couldn’t demonstrate her work on her suburban premises, the Te Kupenga Stone Sculpture Society member showed a short film of her work. 

“For me, the biggest thing was just talking to people. I got a positive response and people were very engaging.”

In the quiet times, she watched a bit of Netflix or worked on the Level 3 & 4 te reo Māori studies she’s doing through Te Wananga o Aotearoa. “They (visitors) probably walked in and heard me talking to myself.”

The part-time teacher is looking forward to opening for 10 days again this year to share her work, which aims to make people aware of the ocean’s wellbeing. 

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