Artist Annie Spence moved to New Zealand’s Coromandel region to get away from the rat race. There, she creates unique sculptures that illustrate her love for the country. Jack Yan speaks to her
Jack Yan is publisher of Lucire.
I met New Zealand artist Annie Spence at Auckland Airport as she delivered one of her sculptures to a client, an expatriate New Zealander departing for his home overseas. She and her husband, Bob, happened to be in Auckland to pick up some supplies, having driven there in their truck from the Coromandel.
I was intrigued, and asked Spence to describe her work. She told me she had created a relief sculpture of the islands of New Zealand, with details of the country’s topography. The North and South Island measure roughly 40 cm from north to south each, and they come in a variety of finishes, each previewed on Spence’s Facebook page for Kahurangi Design.
Using plaster, each one is lovingly made, and is unique. There’s no sense of mass manufacture here. For those who choose to hang their sculptures in their homes—Spence includes a small kit of screws and adhesive to get the job done—they instantly give a room a lift, as well as display the owner’s national pride without resorting to any contentious symbols.
Like many businesses, Spence’s began from her own experience. ‘It started when I was living overseas, I had an overwhelming feeling that something was missing. It wasn’t until I returned to New Zealand that it became apparent to me that home was what I was yearning for.
‘I love the shape and terrain of our beautiful country, it was important to capture the topographical detail to scale. The sculptures are my symbol of my love for Aotearoa,’ she says.
She began her artistic career around the time she met her husband, where they made a pact that they would always make each other Christmas presents.
Setting up in the Coromandel was particularly inspired. They had resided in cities, each with busy careers. ‘We were on the tread mill of materialism and felt that if we didn’t change our lifestyle we would burn out. That’s when we discovered Opito Bay in the Coromandel.
‘We instantly fell in love with the Bay: it is timeless, the road in is gravel, the beaches are surrounded by farm land and pohutakawa, with no shops in sight.’
She called their decision to move an easy one.
Going to Opito Bay presented few challenges. Spence herself was sure that things would work out, while her husband, who feared he would get bored, discovered the opposite. ‘Bob’s background is mechanical engineering so he is the local “fix-it man”: quad bikes, chain saws, tractors, or anything with a motor.
‘My background is nursing so I’m the local “go-to person” if anyone is unwell in the Bay.’
They both volunteer in the fire brigade and are the first responders to medical emergencies. The closest ambulance is 30 minutes from Opito.
‘We have been here for two and a half years and feel entrenched in a kind, caring community. We love the fact that we know just about all who live in the Bay and we all care for each other, which you don’t find in an urban area,’ she adds.
However, getting an international clientèle was a fluke. But like her, her clients include expatriates who feel nostalgic or homesick, and ‘need to take a part of home back with them.’
Living in Opito Bay keeps the couple happy, and they consider being in New Zealand a blessing. ‘We live in a beautiful country and place—what reasons would I have to not feel positive? I’m not the type of girl that needs the coffee shops, shoe shops or the shiny things. Surround me with love and nature and I’m at my happiest.’ •
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