Art adventures: Arts Unique Gallery

Ok, I know the number of arts-related blog posts has skyrocketed recently. I hope that you are reasonably entertained because I’m having a blast! I realized something about myself in the past few days: I have a seemingly limitless capacity for exploring galleries and artists. No matter how similar the merchandise may be, no matter how many galleries reside side-by-side, I am still intrigued enough to perform a cursory inspection in case I’ll find a new work or artist to admire.

Arts Unique Gallery

Arts Unique Gallery, right outside the entrance to Abel Tasman National Park, has the distinction of being the only gallery I visited during our four-night stay in Marahau. And its offerings are definitely unique. The work of gallery founder and resident artist, Brian “Woody” Woodward, caught my interest and inspired this introvert to request a visit to his workshop. It was another moment of perfect synchronicity for me: Woody had just returned from a several month trip overseas and responded favorably to my request. I spent more than an hour visiting with him in his workshop, learning about his background and artistic interests as well as New Zealand and the local area.

Woody in his workshop

Born in Australia, Woody has lived in New Zealand for more than 40 years. He has an endless fascination with the country, he says, believing there are many untouched areas left to be explored. Exploration fits well with Woody’s artistic style: he personally sources most of the materials used in his art, including pounamu (greenstone), mother of pearl, and rainbow and paua shell throughout New Zealand and the Pacific region. During his recent trip, for example, he spent time in Malaysia and Thailand sourcing Burmese jade with staff member J. Sun. Woody’s workshop is filled with containers of his treasures, and he seems to know exactly where everything he needs will be found.

Woody has explored the arts all of his life. His parents enrolled him in carpentry classes many years ago upon noticing his interest in wood carving, but he kept being drawn away from construction and carpentry and back to the arts. He founded Arts Unique Gallery in Marahau more than 15 years ago and continues to work there today, creating a diverse collection of art with a staff of two. The gallery lies beneath “Marble Mountain,” where New Zealand’s best-quality marble is sourced. Other artists and healers also call the grounds home, renting workshops set among the outdoor sculpture garden.

Woody’s large-scale carving of Papa and Rangi, earth mother and sky father from the Maori creation legend

“Creation is my life,” he says. His days revolve around creating art and music and, although he doesn’t often receive visitors, you’ll find him hard at work in his workshop whenever he’s in town. Among Woody’s diverse artistic talents are wood, jade and bone carving; ceramics; jewelry design, tattoo art and, more recently, bronze casting. In fact, he had just returned from a trip to Australia to work with a friend on his first collection of bronze sculptures. He was hard at work finishing the pieces, which include small human and wildlife figures, when I arrived. Over time, his interests have evolved from large-scale carving to smaller, more-refined pieces like his new bronze work and landscape pendants, which I adore.

The landscape pendants and rings start with mother of pearl and then he inlays other shells and stone to create a landscape. He backs the landscape with fiberglass to secure the piece, and then sizes and fits it into cast silver with a Gypsy bezel. The pieces are generally double-sided offering a shell and/or silver pattern on the reverse. He chooses to outsource the metalsmithing work but he carves the shapes in wood first, and then sends those to be cast using the lost wax method.

Although Woody considers himself more of an artist than a businessman, he admits that his work is divided between commercial and aesthetic interests. Each year, he devotes approximately half of his time to items that he knows sell well, including his jade and bone carvings, and reserves the other half to feed his creative spirit.

What have you done to feed your creative spirit lately? Or have you met anyone recently whose work you admire?


Tips if you’re ever visiting Abel Tasman:

  • Old MacDonald’s Farm and The Barn are the closest accommodations to the park entrance, literally down the street. We stayed at Old Mac’s in a cute little cabin a long walk from the toilets & showers. Overall, it was a nice experience, very peaceful, and we made friends with lots of animals.
  • There’s a cafe next to the park entrance, but not a lot of food options otherwise. Come prepared to cook.

Art adventures: Ring making in Nelson, NZ

I had heard about jeweler Pete Elsbury before arriving in Nelson, at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. My obsession with paua had led me to seek out genuine paua artists as I’m not a fan of mass-produced “artwork.”

On our first day in town, Brian and I walked right by Elsbury’s Lustre Gallery–which he owns with his wife, Zoe Buchanan–but I didn’t realize it. The next day, after browsing through the Suter Gallery, I saw some of Pete’s work in the gift shop and was reminded about visiting his workshop. We found out where it was but didn’t intend to head there straightaway; we deliberately chose to walk through Queens Gardens and then along the river first, but to our surprise, our chosen path literally led straight to Lustre Gallery.

Lustre Gallery in Nelson, NZ

Once outside, Brian agreed to a brief visit although he was feeling galleried out. Our “brief visit” turned into more than an hour chatting with the lovely Zoe, who told us about the work on display, her and Pete’s mentoring of young artists via the gallery and Klustre consortium, and Pete’s one-day ring-making workshop. I inquired further about the workshop and Pete agreed to a class Monday morning before our scheduled bus departure.

Lustre Gallery interior

The Artist’s Way course I recently completed talks about synchronicity, when desires and reality happily coincide. For me, meeting Pete and Zoe, and having the opportunity to take an impromptu metalsmithing class was definitely a moment of synchronicity. Having just finished my art clay silver class in Auckland, it was a great time to learn traditional jewelry making, yet I’d had no idea that Pete taught. And had we not ended up at Lustre that Saturday afternoon, I might have missed the opportunity completely, what with the gallery being closed on Sunday and our bus leaving Monday afternoon.

I had expected metalsmithing to be similar to my glassblowing and lampwork experiences: hot work. I was surprised that it primarily involves cold metal work, actually.

The first step in making my new pinky ring was to determine my NZ size: E. (My wedding band is a 4 1/2 in US sizes, which corresponds to an “I” in New Zealand.) Check out this conversion chart for more.

Pete taught by first demonstrating how to do something and then having me follow along on my own project. He annealed (heated) the sterling silver wire (925) to soften it for working, cooled it, and then we pressed it through a machine with some gauze to create an interesting pattern on the metal. We then cut our lengths: mine 45mm, and his two samples, 50mm and 55mm.  We each stamped our rings with our initials and then bent the wire around a mandrel using a rubber mallet. The goal when wrapping around the mandrel is to get the two ends to align evenly so there will be a clean seam.

We then cut solder, dipped it and our rings in flux to protect them from fire scale during torching, and then soldered the seam closed with a gas flame. Next, we re-shaped our rings into circles and dipped them into lime sulfur to create contrast within the pattern (similar to what I did with liver of sulfur in the art clay class). To finish, we polished the rings with a large buffing machine and polishing compounds tripoli and rouge.

And voilà! A tiny pinky ring with texture on top:

The whole process sounds pretty easy, doesn’t it? I’m sure it is for an expert–after all, Pete made three rings while I finished just one–but it is a small, fine-motor-skill kind of art form.

After finishing our rings, Pete took some time to show me his work with paua. He buys whole shells from a local diver and then cuts them down to meet his needs. Paua is a protected, quota-capped industy in New Zealand and divers must free-dive (without oxygen) to depths of 40 or more feet to harvest the shells.

When making a paua ring, Pete first creates a bezel using fine silver (999). Then he crafts a base and ring shank from sterling. He solders the bezel closed to ensure a tight fit around the shell, but doesn’t actually mount it until the ring is finished and polished. With the bezel adhered to the base, he solders it to the shank and then finely trims and sands the base flush to the bezel. After everything is mounted and secured, he then polishes and finishes the ring. The one below is still in progress, but check out his online gallery for more examples.

I had a great time at my morning ring-making class. Many thanks to Zoe and Pete for their hospitality!

Kate, with Pete Elsbury and Zoe Buchanan

What are some examples of synchronicity in your life lately?


Tips for visiting Nelson:

  • Need a reason to go? Nelson has some of the best weather in New Zealand and was a lovely respite from rain and cold.
  • The area has a great cafe culture, but if you don’t know where to look, you might miss it! Walk through the darkened bars around the city center and emerge into sunny, cheerful interior courtyards. For good food, check out bar/cafe Elsewhere and When in Rome. Sprig and Fern also serves some good craft brews.
  • When we arrived at the Paradiso, our accommodations for the weekend, it was full of 20-something backpackers. We decided to upgrade to their Apartments, and we loved it. Unlike the backpacker side, the apartments were quiet, we had an ensuite bathroom with jacuzzi tub, and a small kitchenette with refrigerator for 99 NZD/night (about 75 USD).
  • If you’re into the arts scene, check out the Suter Gallery and the WOW museum (World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars) along with Lustre Gallery.

Kaikoura in pictures

Even if only for its scenic beauty, Kaikoura would be one of my favorite places in New Zealand. Luckily, it also is a nice little town with friendly locals, interesting shops and excellent wildlife-viewing opportunities.

I’m just a little water obsessed recently. Look at those blues!

It was still chilly there, so we buttoned up while exploring the beach and enjoying the views.

On our way north to Picton the next day, we stopped by a seal colony. There are several such colonies on the South Island, and September/October is typically when the pups are weaned and start heading out to sea. These are New Zealand fur seals, also called Kekeno.

Count the seals: How many do you see?

If you’re ever in Kaikoura, here are a few recommendations:

  • Kaikoura is well regarded for seafood. We particularly enjoyed fish and chips at Cooper’s Catch, where we learned that we prefer elephant fish over the more common hoki and tarakihi.
  • We had a yummy and surprisingly affordable dinner at The Whaler – 14.50 NZD (about 11 USD) for Porterhouse, mashed potatoes and salad.
  • Southern Paua Ltd does paua carving on site and has some of the best prices on polished paua shells that we’ve found.
  • Sealside Gallery has a great selection of New Zealand art, and is owned & operated by local artists.


Kate - You’re right, there were 5. Wasn’t sure the one partially underwater was clear. We were about 50 feet away.

Skmrorer - How beautiful! I counted 5 – were there more. How close were you when you took the picture? Look forward to Skyping.

Art adventures: Auckland’s Bead Hold

Continuing my art adventures, I decided it was time to learn a little bit more about beading. In Hawaii, I had taken a beginning wire-wrapping class and learned a little about stringing and earring design, but there were still a lot of things I didn’t know.

My art clay instructor recommended the Bead Hold in Point Chevalier, so I took a bus out to pick up some basic tools and supplies and to take a group class in peyote stitching. It was an enjoyable experience and the staff were friendly and helpful, so I made the most of my remaining time in Auckland and signed up for a two-hour private lesson. My tutor, Bex, was great! She covered everything I wanted to learn, including a last-minute piece on making chandelier earrings, and was very patient. In class, I started on a multiple-strand necklace and chandelier earrings, and then completed a decorative wire-wrapping project. The proof of her quality instruction was my ability to finish each of the projects at home on my own time. Here they are:

Peyote stitch bracelet

Paua shell bracelet

Chandelier earrings

Multistrand necklace incorporating a pendant from Hawaii

I have an affinity for teal and turquoise lately, as you can see in my color choices. Ladies, are there any colors you are attached to right now?

Kate - Nah, new careers will be more intellectually stimulating. Art is fun!

Skmrorer - You are getting very good at your new hobby or is this leading into another great career?

A walk through Ponsonby & Herne Bay

Ponsonby and Herne Bay are two of my favorite Auckland neighborhoods. They are also conveniently located right next to each other, perfect for a stroll on a lovely afternoon.

Ponsonby has a nice cafe culture…

…as well as great shopping. Here’s the showroom for designer Annah Stretton.

Fun spring fashions at Storm in Ponsonby

Herne Bay is a lovely neighborhood west of central Auckland. I love the mix of gingerbread houses and modern styles there.

Lots of delicious florals to admire and smell along the way.

And one last view of Auckland from Westhaven Marina.


Kate - Thank you! The flower one reminded me of you.

Coach Cassandra Rae - Great photos, Kate!