By Holly Shan
At the end of a short, quiet cul-de-sac, 23 School Road, close to the township of Whitianga, there is an Art House with a large lawn. It is the home of the Whitianga Art Group. Margaret Gibson, the secretary of the Group, and Jenny Cotterell, its treasurer, spoke to The Informer, as they and other members of the Art Group were busily setting up their showroom for the first-weekend exhibition of the 2023 Mercury Bay Art Escape. Seven members of the Art Group were exhibiting as part of the Art Escape for the first time. Their hall which is normally very bright with light and perfect for painting, had all the windows covered to allow more space for hanging paintings.
Whitianga Art Group is well-known for the annual summer Art Exhibition held every January for over 50 years in Whitianga for the surrounding district. It was born out of evening art classes in 1969 and has more than 40 members today, coming from as far south as Tairua and across to Matarangi and Opito Bay. Although the road has become more challenging to navigate due to damage from Cyclone Gabrielle, many members still come to the Thursday or Friday regular gatherings.
According to Margaret, the hall is a social place where members come and go at different times. "Some come and just stay in the morning, and some come in and leave later. We bring our painting and each one keeps on with his or her own work here. But we also enjoy the conversations with people who have the same interests and offer some advice or guidance. At noon, we sit around for lunch together."
Jenny added that members also have access to the hall key and can come in and out in their own time. "Some of them prefer to paint here than at home because they like the peace that is here."
The members' ages range from 40 to mid-80s, and the group uses Facebook and Instagram to share events, workshops, and artwork. Margaret also sends a monthly newsletter to all members, which advice for new members, such as copyright rules, for example, how to access photography rights from photographers. The Art Group committee is currently discussing the possibility of being open during the night or on weekends to cater to people who work full-time. "We have several members who can't make it on weekdays," Margaret said. “We just need someone dedicated to saying, 'Yes, I'll come in, and I'll be here.'" The group also holds student sessions for the Evakona English Language School. According to Jenny, "They will do some painting and art activity in two hours in the afternoon on one of their school days.” They are also considering running programmes for local children, but to do this, they need funding support.
Jenny said, "This is a good workspace for other crafts such as a quilters group, a craft group or a weaving group. We welcome other organisations and activities to come and use this space. The Art Group has a vision of being a community art centre where all facets of art, including digital and street art, are welcomed.”
Self-introductions of the Art Group seven exhibitors and their works.
Jackie Chatfield: I paint in acrylics, and my favourite subjects are portraits and birds. My paintings are inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite artworks I was lucky to see when I travelled to Europe in 2017.
Jenny Cotterell: I work in acrylics on various subjects, mainly painting realism, sometimes stylised, and I enjoy the freedom of abstract. I have become intrigued with dot art or pointillism and enjoy experimenting with this technique.
Julie Ellis: My inspiration comes mainly from my love of nature, and working with acrylics, although the call to learn other forms of art incorporated in my painting is a strong one.
Margaret Gibson: My colourful representational style focuses on nature's unique and naturally occurring beauty. I paint in acrylics and oils. My art expresses my connection with places and people.
Marianne Moyes: I have always enjoyed a variety of creative pastimes, including stone carving, painted rocks, and textiles, among other things. Over the last four years, I have focused more on painting with acrylics on canvas.
Merle Ward: I cruised along, learning different painting styles, all with acrylic. Then at the start of Covid, I challenged myself by learning about and moving to the oil and cold wax medium. The enjoyment drives me to experiment further.
Jeanette Wouters: I work with oils as I love the colours and the blending I can achieve with this medium. Beautiful Whitianga and the surrounding areas are indeed an inspiration to my choice of subjects.