If you have an open mind, artistic inclination and like to journey off the beaten track, let me introduce you to a delightful addition to the New Zealand art world.

My friend Stuart Shepherd has created a visual carnival.  In Te Aroha.
Yes, amongst the unassuming wooden houses lining the quiet streets of this small New Zealand town (about half an hour’s drive from Hamilton) lurks the newly opened New Zealand Folk Art and Design Gallery.

Once you get over the unexpected novelty of finding such a fabulous collection of art objects and curiosities in such an unlikely place, you discover there is a logic to Stuart’s choice of venue.  First of all, it would be hard to afford such a beautiful old wooden church (circa 1920s) in downtown Auckland.  And secondly, while Stuart has lived in New York for many years, and curated shows throughout the USA and Europe, he was weaned on the aesthetic of small town New Zealand A&P shows (Agriculture & Produce), and his gallery echoes that carnival atmosphere.

Stuart’s career to date has had him teaching Fine Arts at Massey University by day, and championing the work of New Zealand self taught artists by night. He has had particular success getting the work of unknown and obscure New Zealand artists into the American Folk Art Museum, New York Outsider Art Museum, and Mad Musee in Belgium.

Now he has dropped the mild academic Clark Kent façade, and is the super man of New Zealand folk art.  Three cheers for him.  But what exactly is NZ folk art? In this case it is a unique art collection resulting from years spent trawling through the best museums and worst junk shops. Stuart is drawn to various outlets of local (folk) creative expression including old painted signs, letterboxes, medical models, puppets, and paintings of all kinds.  You will notice a particular interest in objects from the 1930’s and 1950’s, as well as contemporary installations.  In short, he displays whatever tickles his fancy, and the result is very entertaining.

He also features New Zealand artists that he has developed relationships with over the years…names that you probably haven’t encountered via the usual art institutions. There’s retired civil servant Ray Ritchie who recycles materials into quirky narratives; Robert Rapson, a self taught ceramicist specialising in table top ships, and Reece Tong who creates tribal pictograms. Stuart took the work of all three to the 2009 International Outsider Art Fair (sponsored by the American Folk Art Museum in New York).  It was the first time New Zealand art had ever appeared, and Stuart was rewarded with an enthusiastic invitation to showcase more New Zealand art at the Fair the following year, while the artists were invited to showcase their work in other reputable galleries and museums throughout the USA.

Here’s the address:
New Zealand Folk Art & Design Gallery
96 Centennial Ave
Te Aroha
It’s open weekends, or book for an appointment:
Phone Stuart on 021 171 6229

And here’s some more examples of the art on show:

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