Newly arrived flax weaver quick to put down roots

Weaver Marianne Aschenbrenner “fell in love” with Raglan 16 years ago – and though it was only a fleeting visit always held on to the hope that one day she’d live here.

That day came just over a month ago when, her work nannying for immediate family

at an end after their decision to relocate, the 62 year old shifted down from Auckland and into a Cliff St cottage and studio she’d spied for rent in the Chronicle classifieds.

And Marianne – who admits to having been so excited by the move here that she “unpacked like a crazy woman” – certainly hasn’t wasted any time putting down roots.

Soon after shifting in she planted five flaxes from Auckland Botanic Gardens in the earth at her new water’s-edge home, and just  four days later she was harvesting the plants for her first local workshop in flax weaving.

Now Marianne’s eyeing local sources of flax, such as the flourishing harekeke bushes around the causeway in Wallis Street or along the boardwalk running adjacent to the town end of Cliff Street.

The Munich-born artist’s new studio is now overflowing with her hand-dyed flax work – kete, hats and intricately woven blooms, fairy wands and wall hangings.

The familiar smell of freshly woven flax helps make her feel at home.

Last Sunday’s monthly Raglan Creative Market at the Old School marked another milestone for Marianne in her first month here.

Although she missed the Raglan artists’ open studio weekend by a whisker at the end of January, she was organised enough by last weekend to showcase her work – for which she has a thriving online business under the name ‘Woven’ – at her own stall in Stewart Street.

Having a presence there also allowed Marianne to promote her weaving workshops, which she stresses support an age-old art that remains true to Maori cultural practices or tikanga.

She says that while not everyone is able to afford to buy weaving like hers, in just four hours anyone can be taught to harvest, prepare and weave flax into a small basket.

Marianne started weaving back in 2010  while living up north in Ruakaka – and reckons she “couldn’t stop”. Her master teacher was Elke Radewald who, coincidentally, dropped in at her market stall on Sunday.

For the past five years Marianne’s been based at Swanson in West Auckland where she’s sold her work at Titirangi Village Market. She has also exhibited  at Arataki Visitor Centre in the Waitakere Ranges.

She says her passion for flax-weaving has taught her much about herself and Maori culture. And the art form itself is like therapy, she adds, because it concentrates the mind.

It goes hand in hand with her love of reiki – a healing technique through touch – in which Marianne is also trained. “It’s all about channelling the life force … the energy that’s so important when it comes to animals, plants and humans,” she says in a soft German accent.

“And through weaving I can feel that spiritual connection to plants.”

Edith Symes