Crucible of the arts

Arrival by air in Nelson presents a visual reminder that not quite everything in New Zealand is actually 100 % Pure. A yellow cloud, billowing from a fibreboard plant, is a streak of dense ochre smudging a clear sky above a shimmering, silvery-blue Tasman Bay.

I ponder the colours in this aerial perspective as I would an oil painting, for the tranquil fishing port below, slumbering on the northern shore of New Zealand’s South Island, is well known as a crucible for the arts.

Nelson is the hub of a region blessed with a more-than-generous percentage of the nation’s painters, sculptors, potters, jewellers, weavers and furniture makers. This quite exceptional assemblage, now numbering in excess of 300 resident artists, provides a dense concentrate of talent that is now helping underpin local tourism. So many artists inhabiting one reef proves an irresistible lure for both the inquisitive visitor and patrolling connoisseur fish.

On touchdown in Nelson I check into the heritage-listed Wakefield Quay House, a charming waterside B&B with uninterrupted views across the bay from its two front bedrooms. Etched against the far horizon at sunset is the deep purple outline of Abel Tasman National Park.

My hosts are the irrepressible Woodi Moore and her fisherman husband John. Woodi’s business card fortuitously informs me that she’s also “Jack of all trades” at the Nelson Bays Arts Advocacy and Marketing Trust. This body was established 11 years ago by local artists and crafts people to promote themselves and the region as an entity.

Woodi is an ideal initial contact in my quest to gauge Nelson’s artistic pulse. One of her many tasks at the Trust is production editor of the local arts guide. “Everything you need to know about anyone worth knowing about,” she quips, flipping a copy of the latest ring-bound edition onto the dining room table. Contact me for complete article