Hatching thrills in a hidden garden

20:41, Feb 17 2013
 Hidden Sculpture Garden
MAKING SPACE: David Carson in his workshop at the Hidden Sculpture Garden in Tapawera.

Anna Pearson pays a visit to the Hidden Sculpture Garden in Tapawera.

The cicadas are roaring at the end of the Carsons' gravel driveway, down a lane of established trees.

Rachel Carson is in the gift shop, talking to a young woman whom she obviously knows.

 Hidden Sculpture Garden
SHARP APPROACH: Large Blue Volume (2012), a sculpture by David Carson made using his portable mill.

David, whose parents once farmed the same land, is summoned - it's his job to speak to the reporter.

The wood miller and sculptor is busy finishing a set of artworks for a group show at Kereru Gallery in Tasman.

David's parents came to New Zealand in the 1960s and settled on 54 hectares in Tapawera.


 Hidden Sculpture Garden
CUTTING EDGE KETE: David’s first creation using metal saw blades.

They named it Sallagh, and farmed sheep, beef, and tended a few crops.

David grew up there, playing in the river and climbing trees, and took over the land with his English wife when his father retired in 1996.

He remembers how the property used to be, when the gift shop was a dirt-floor implement shed for farm gear, and the gallery was too.

This was before he had a wife and three daughters, and before the Hidden Sculpture Garden was born.

Rachel was keen to open an enterprise about eight years ago, so they lined and tiled the sheds.

They also turned the sheep yard into a courtyard, and ran a small cafe, before deciding to downsize this summer.

"We did it all ourselves - two of us, and the kids, when we could rope them in. It took a lot of us."

David wanted to have more time to do what he does best - "make stuff" -and "something had to give".

Rachel still runs a gift shop, and sells coffee, cakes, and ice-cream, but "it's much more low key".

David, 44 - at least "I think I'm 44", met Rachel while working at a ski resort in the French Alps.

Lisa White - "a neighbour in Tapawera terms" - lives two valleys along, and has paintings in the Carsons' small gallery.

There are also two sculptures David made from piano parts when he dismantled some pianos at the end of their lives.

He doesn't like to waste things, "because I'm tight", but he also doesn't like cluttering up his workshop.

So he makes stuff.


"When I make something I try and use the stuff that's left over for the next thing. I hate throwing things away, but I hate having stuff lying around."

David tried university for a couple of years - geology at the University of Canterbury, but the lure of overseas travel proved stronger.

"I didn't want to go to Oz and dig holes anyway."

He has always made things, ever since his father let him into his workshop at a young age to mess around with wood, so cabinet making seemed like an option when he returned from overseas.

He says the Centre for Fine Woodworking would have been a "perfect" start to his career, but unfortunately it didn't exist yet.

He "chickened out", bought a portable saw mill, and earned his crust as a miller for 10 years instead.

He hoarded blunt saw blades, as you do, and one day decided to try and make something out of them.

The project - a basket - took 18 months, and he gave it to Rachel for Christmas in 2000.

"I sort of hid it from her. It was really satisfying to finish, because it was such a horrendous process," he says.

But it was the start of something.

"People looked at it and said, ‘Wow, you should make more of those'. So really that's how I became a sculptor."

David's saw blade sculpture then appeared in various places, including Nelson Airport, until he went off on a tangent in 2006.

"It's really quite hard work, and I sort of wore my elbows out. Plus, you get sick of doing the same thing."

What came next is visible in the Hidden Sculpture Garden, which offers a 250-metre jaunt around the Carsons' property.

There are 31 labelled sculptures, some of which David has sculpted by feeding tree trunks into his sawmill.

"Wood has its own weaknesses. It's not a uniform material. It's good because you're not really dictating how it looks," he says.

David says working from home, to his own schedule, is good. He supplements his income with seasonal work and sawmilling now and then. He and Rachel also rent out a self-catered cottage to holidaymakers.

"Gareth Morgan was saying the other day that he's virtually unemployable, and I'm possibly the same. You get used to having your own way of doing things. You're either always working, or you're always on holiday. It depends what way you look at it."

The Hidden Sculpture Garden trail, gallery, and gift shop is open seven days a week from 10am to 5pm. Phone before visiting, to make

sure the Carsons are around, on 03 522 4227. The property is at 4854 Motueka Valley Highway,

just off State Highway 6.