Bubbly rather than a sombre mood as ‘wonderful’ gallery closes its doors

It’s not often there’s a festive air and corks are popped at the closing of a business, but then Matapihi Art Gallery – which shut its doors for the final time last Sunday – was no normal retail outlet.

While the dozen or so fabric and glass artists, painters, printers, jewellers, weavers and sculptors at the closing-down party lamented losing their collective space at the upper end of the CBD,  all were grateful for the opportunity they’d had to show and sell their work locally over the past decade.

“It’s been so lovely to be in this space,” said potter Heather Cunningham, who brought a gift of merino gloves and a scarf  for manager or kaiwhakahaere Ardré Foote who’s leaving town for Taupo. “It’s a cold place,” Heather laughed by way of explanation.

Others confessed the gallery they’d also taken turns staffing over the years had been something of a haven – especially in winter with a fire burning in the old grate.

All expressed similar sentiments: that it was sad to lose such a great gallery full of “wonderful” camaraderie and an energy that made it unique.

They credited its success to Ardré, who “saw a need” in the community for an art and healing collective.

Ardré told the Chronicle that when she started Matapihi “it was just me”.  But word quickly got round and anyone interested in being part of the collective gravitated to the gallery.

Ardre, who’s a raranga or flax-weaving artist, had felt for too long that local art was confined to garages and homes where no-one saw it.  The creation of a “beautiful environment” to showcase Raglan art was her prime goal.

She also works in cultural bodywork and massage so set about adding other local massage therapists, osteopaths and even a counsellor to the mix, with healing rooms set aside within the old house which belongs to Surfside Church.

Matapihi had felt a bit like a family, Ardre said, but it was time to move on because the church now needed its building back and coincidentally her teenage daughter was about to start high school in Taupo.

While the gallery displayed mostly local art, it was not exclusively local and also showed work by artists from Auckland, Hamilton, Pirongia, Rotorua, Wellington and Nelson over the years.

Edith Symes