The small coastal town with more than seven art galleries

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A Taranaki town of just 1,440 people — a place that only recently got its first laundromat — has more than seven working artist studios and galleries.

Ōpunake, 45 minutes south of New Plymouth, is well known for its agriculture, converted dairy factories, surfing, beaches and Olympic runner Peter Snell.

Now a group of creatives are hoping to add some art to that list.

Claire Jensen has lived in Ōpunake for 17 years and runs the Brown Bach Studio in Hickey Place.

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Sculptor Claire Jensen has lived in Opunake for 17 years and says the art scene continues to grow.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Sculptor Claire Jensen has lived in Opunake for 17 years and says the art scene continues to grow.

She is a member of the seven-person collective Ōpunake Open Studios & Galleries, which was formed to try to bring more visibility to the city.

Jensen is a sculptor and started a business making native bird feathers from recycled wood.

The wall of his home gallery is lined with vibrant feathers of huia, kererū, tūī and kea.

“I was able to hone my skills in pieces I want to create for my own signature style and was able to successfully build a business out of that during the lockdown period, and now have an online store.

Jensen works from home where she specializes in making native bird feathers from recycled wood.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Jensen works from home where she specializes in making native bird feathers from recycled wood.

“During this big lockdown period, this bedroom was turned into an art gallery, because we had all the material here, and I thought why not? And it just blossomed from there.

Jensen had been a teacher but had found her passion in art.

She says Ōpunake is growing with more and more things to do.

There’s a cinema, theatre, cafes, beaches, a loop around town and, of course, art galleries.

She makes the feather by hand using a chisel.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

She makes the feather by hand using a chisel.

Jensen wants Opunake to be recognized more for the quantity and quality of its art scene.

Although the city is included in the recently launched Coastal Arts Trail, a self-guided tour through public art, street art, galleries and museums across the Taranaki, Whanganui and Manawatū regions, Jensen said that she mainly concentrated on State Highway 3 between New Plymouth and Whanganui, rather around the Taranaki coast.

“The art scene here is growing and we have exciting places to go, surprising places to visit.”

When Viv Davy, who runs From Out Of The Blue Studio Gallery, arrived in the city 10 years ago from Auckland, there was no art scene, she says.

Weaver Viv Davy has been in Opunake for 10 years watching the art scene grow.  She owns one of two industrial looms in New Zealand.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Weaver Viv Davy has been in Opunake for 10 years watching the art scene grow. She owns one of two industrial looms in New Zealand.

But now there are weavers, sculptors, painters and designers.

“There are new ones popping up all the time,” Davy says.

She specializes in textiles and fiber art and is also a botanical dyer who grows plants on her one-acre section to cook and process into fabric dye.

She commonly uses kawakawa, iris, roses and violets.

Davy and her husband built their home to accommodate the gallery and its upstairs workspace was opened for the Taranaki Arts Trail in 2019. Shortly after the pandemic hit.

Davy is also a botanical dyer who uses plants grown in her garden to make fabric dye.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Davy is also a botanical dyer who uses plants grown in her garden to make fabric dye.

Davy owns an industrial loom, which she had custom built in Sweden for around $35,000. It was one of only two in the country.

To the untrained eye, it looks like an intricate organ woven with thread.

But for Davy, it’s been her working tool for 40 years, so she knows it like the back of her hand.

She tries to use as many organic materials as possible and encourages others to do the same.

“I try to encourage artists who come to exhibit at the gallery to think about sustainable practices.

“We’re off-grid here, we use rainwater, we’re solar-powered and we do compost.”

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