Finding her path through painting

02:08, Sep 19 2012
Barbara Franklet
ARTIST SPACE: Barbara Franklet at Mockingbird Studio, in Nile St West.

Nelson has a habit of drawing people to its shores. American artist Barbara Franklet was not immune. Anna Pearson reports:

“In hindsight I would say it was an OE,” says Barbara Franklet, sitting in the spring sun outside her studio on Nile St.

A long OE.

Franklet and her family moved to Nelson from the United States in 2008 and have been here ever since.

“At the time it was just this idea of living in a different country. We sold our house; we didn't have a concrete plan.”

There was no agenda, only adventure.


“We'd never been to Nelson. We'd never been to New Zealand. My running joke was that we'd seen the Lord of the Rings and that's why we were going to go to New Zealand,” she says.

An eight-day whirlwind tour started in Auckland and wound its way down the country.

“When we landed in Nelson, it felt right.”

Franklet has been a fulltime artist for 15 years, after tragedy left her with a gift.

Her mother died when she was 29 and her father died about five years later, when she had a 1-year-old son.

She inherited some money and it was enough to quit her day job as a teacher. All of a sudden she had a financial cushion, which allowed her to re-invent her life.

“I said, ‘OK, fine. I am going to try and be an artist', and honestly . . . it worked out.”

Franklet hit the US art fair scene, travelling from state to state with her work.

Sometimes her husband and children joined her, other times she went alone.

“I was a carnie. It was a super fun life.”

The year Franklet left the US she was the featured artist in one of the fairs, “which was always a big coup”.

After she moved to New Zealand, she got accepted for one of the “most prestigious” art shows in the US - after applying, and getting rejected, for 10 years.

“It's called Cherry Creek. Every artist who does the US art fair circuit wants to get into Cherry Creek.

Franklet spent the next six months creating work and flew back to the US to exhibit. When she returned, her husband asked her if she would be interested in running a room as a studio.

The first Mockingbird Studio was set-up in Nelson's now-closed Independent Theatre.

“Through serendipity once again, this space avails itself and I say, ‘OK, I'll open a studio'. How does one make a living as an artist in Nelson? In New Zealand? That's a hard nut to crack.”

So is it working?

“Yeah. It's going alright, and every year is better.”

The Mockingbird Studio is now on Nile St West, featuring an array of colourful, playful and whimsical artworks.

The name is a “tip of the hat” to Franklet's home, as the mocking bird is the state bird of Texas. And also, “I do lots of birds. I think they're beautiful graphic elements”.

Franklet's artworks are full of “characters” - people in boats, riding unicycles, juggling, playing instruments.

“I mostly work in oil pastels. Oil pastels are like expensive crayons. I began my career as a print-maker and only as my kids distracted me from the press did I do oil pastels. You can walk away from oil pastels, but you can't really walk away from print-making,” she says.

“I have always liked the narrative end of picture making. I don't have an art degree. I started to get an art degree and it was more of the fine art mentality, which is fine. I have nothing against it, but I was not the ‘bleed all over the canvas' type of artist.”

Franklet sold 29 pieces at this year's New Zealand Art Show in Wellington, and also took part in the “brilliant” inaugural Art Expo Nelson. She'll sign up for both again next year, but other than that she doesn't know what else the future holds. Will she stay, or go?

“That's the million dollar question. If I have learnt anything from Kiwis, it's just to be open. I don't know if I'm staying or going, but I'm in the present right now. I'm here right now. It's beautiful.”

Mockingbird Studio is at 6 West Nile St, Nelson, or see Barbara Franklet's works at