Being new to Whanganui I was wondering why this 4.5 hectare public space was more commonly known as Virginia Lake and not by its Maori name of Rotokawau. The answer to which I found in very small print on a rather large plaque hidden in a corner of the front entrance of the neighbouring Winter Garden.
Unfortunately the land was purchased for development by white settlers in the mid 1800’s. The Māori legend of the lakes origin can be found written on the plaque beneath a bronze sculpture of the beautiful Tainui.
The legend explains that the lake was formed from the tears of the grief stricken Tainui and the rain from the angry gods over the murder of Turere, Tainui’s love. Turere had been strangled by the jealous suitor Ranginui. Notice her tears as she gazes out towards the lake.
Rotokawau means ‘roto’ – Lake and ‘kawau’ – blag shag
Walking around the lake, the kids disappeared down a bamboo bush tunnel. Waiting at the end of the track I could hear a weird rather loud chattering. It sounded almost aggressive. I looked across the lake but couldn’t see the cause. The kids soon gathered around me and joined in the search for the sounds source. Then we looked up, and there in the trees were several nests with kawau fledglings. We watched as they continued their persistent squawks, calling out to their parents.
The lake offers a rich habitat for many bird species. Take your time and open your eyes
The rather large metal lily fountain sculpture was donated in 1970 by Mr Henry Higginbottom, a local philanthropist.
Don’t forget to spot the rather odd Peter Pan sculpture, who my kids found quite entertaining as it looked like he was peeing, complete with a puddle beneath him.
Wondering what to do while visiting Whanganui? The Winter Gardens offers an all year round colourful display of flora amongst sculptures and garden art.
Built in the 1940’2, the Winter Gardens were built to commemorate the Centenary of New Zealand.
A walk in aviary was developed over the 1960’s and 70’s. Birds to be observed include pheasants, parakeets, finch and rosellas, and of course, what aviary would be complete without a couple of talking cockatoos.
Local artist have contributed to the sculptural garden next door. Exhibited pieces include punga carvings, mosaics and glass works.
More art can be found by continuing your journey to Lake Rotokawau (Virginia Lake), a half hour woodland walk. You can join in with the leap frogging children created by sculptor Hamish Horsley.
Making moulds for ceramic work is easy and affordable. To make bowls you can either spray the bowls with a release agent, such as silicone or cover the bowl with a clay layer. This means you can etch or alter the shape to suit before pouring in plaster.
To make my heart mould I formed a solid heart shape and pressed it firmly to the base of a plastic container. After pouring the plaster I jiggle the container to release any bubbles.
Once set, the plaster mould can be easily removed and used. When creating wall hangings it’s important to consider how the piece will be hung. I attach clay using a vinegar and water mix to help with the blending of the clay. Using a small 2cm long piece of straw I cut a hole, so the wire can be used for hanging the ornament when finished.
After about a week of drying, weather dependant, the pieces can be put into the kiln for a bisque firing up to 1040oC. Then once the glaze has been applied, the pieces will receive a second firing, up to 1200oC. Complete.
Whanganui is home to over 400 resident artists, and hosts over 15 galleries. Whanganui’s dynamic art scene includes photography, painting, pottery, sculptures, textiles and glass.
One of these outstanding contributors is glass artist David Traub.
I was quick to book in for a glass tutorial at his studio in King Street, called The Glass Factory.
I joined 6 other amateur artists for an instructed class where we used David’s off-cuts to create 2 bowls, magnets or broches and a glass tile.
Using frits we created our design on flat glass disks, which later David slumped over stainless steel bowls, coated in shelf wash.
The kiln is fired over night and your completed masterpieces are packaged and posted home, for you to admire and treasure.
The tile was an interesting activity utilising chunky glass fragments from previous works. We could cut the glass to our desired size and used a metal mallet to crush and sieve pieces to suit. We lined metal moulds with fibre paper and set to work.
My tile was inspired by the Hen Island view we had from our old family beach house. I was really pleased with the result, and look forward to working with glass in the future.
Finding a good art supplier takes a lot of research. Prices can look quite reasonable online but once you’ve spent a good hour or so navigating a website, creating a cart of potential purchases, the freight charges can change the investment from a creative hobby to a financial risk pretty fast.
It felt like Christmas the day my first order of clay and glazes arrived from Decopots. A momentous day.
I had decided on 20 bags of clay. 10 wood brown stoneware and 10 cream stoneware. Both great for sculptural and wheel work. If you commit to 20 bags the price is reduced. I topped up the pallet with a couple of glazes and a brush, making the most of the freight charges.
Now that we have relocated to Whanganui, I am only an hour away from Palmerston North, the home of Decopots. While my mother (also a potter) was visiting, we thought it would be fun to have a little shop.
What I didn’t realise was that they aren’t open to the public, however they kindly showed us around their factory. This was such a treat. A behind the scenes experience.
We watched as clay was pressed through a rather large industrial pugmill.
We watched as ceramic blanks were reproduced in moulds and set to dry on shelves before heading to the kiln for firing.
Although we left empty handed, we would soon be putting our orders in.
Pretty excited to be part of this year’s Art in the Garden.
Whanganui artists spent the Friday setting up their displays. Work included ceramic sculptures, glass ornaments, metal work and paintings. I decided on a bushy part of the walkway to display my lady sculptures, tikis and hearts, then disappeared.
The event is held over the weekend, with purchases sold as ‘cash and carry’. So hopefully there isn’t much for me to pick up on the Monday!
I took the family on the Saturday to spy on my work. Even though the weather was a bit dodgy it was good to see plenty of people wandering around the stunning garden venue, at QT Nursery on Papaiti Rd. The Whanganui Pottery Club were giving raku demonstrations throughout the day as displays started to show some gaps as fantastic pieces of art found their new homes.
Studio, clay and a kiln, it was time to get creating. I set to work making Christmas ornaments in star, fish and heart shapes. After a week of drying, I was ready for my first fire. Unfortunately the kiln’s automatic cone firing schedules did not work, and instead of stopping at 1040oC for a bisque fire, the kiln when all the way to it’s top temperature of 1280oC. This meant my ornaments could not have a second firing with glaze applied.
It took a couple of firings for me to realise that I was going to have to find schedules for bisque and glaze firing of stoneware clay and to enter the program manually.
With the firing under control I could now start testing my glazes. Having my own kiln gave me the freedom to experiment without fear of failure.