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, 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.
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.
“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.