Sculptor creates magic at work

JUDITH RITCHIE
Last updated 14:06 23/01/2013
Ebbe Munk
PATRICK HAMILTON/FAIRFAX NZ

HAPPY IN HIS WORK: Sculptor Michael MacMillan in his outdoor workshop in Neudorf, Upper Moutere.

Ebbe Munk
PATRICK HAMILTON/FAIRFAX NZ
LOFTY HEIGHTS: MacMillan in his partly constructed new workshop, gallery and office.

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Last week Judith Ritchie visited Neville Parker at Icon Centre for Contemporary Art on the Moutere Highway. A little further along, up Neudorf Rd, she meets Michael MacMillan, another sculptor with his own equally expansive vision, combining making artwork as a living, with family and a Bed and Breakfast, hosting people from all over the world as visitors and tutored students.

Michael MacMillan grew up in a family of potters, learning at an early age the art of making three dimensional objects in space.

Little did he know that this would lead on to making concrete sculptures, some weighing in at 3 tonnes.

I meet him at the old Neudorf Hall, now renovated and converted into the home he shares with partner, Jackie Crowe and their nine-year-old daughter, Poppy.

Set on an acre of land, they have established a garden featuring MacMillan's large polished concrete sculptures with stainless steel bases around a carpark area, plus a more intimate courtyard and small gallery area, showcasing his work.

Within this space are some smaller works, including figurines cast in bronze, which MacMillan explains are strictly in a limited edition. Usually that is only 10, but sometimes up to 24 casts can be poured from the one mould, then that is the end of the series.

He also works in a variety of other mediums, with a focus on recycling, motivated by the proximity of Neudorf Wineries just up the road, a source of french oak wine barrels and grape cuttings used in some of his pieces.

We decide to visit his workshop for a look at how he makes his cheese boards from recycled barrel stays, held together using biscuit joints.

As we walk across the yard there is a major construction project going on. This is the new gallery/workshop/office, which will completely change MacMillan's work and business. But first, the existing workshop.

It is a great sight to behold, two sea containers placed in an L-shape, a roof made from a large black tarpaulin held up in the middle by the centre post from a Hills Hoist washing line. Real kiwi ingenuity. Kind of chilly and probably very noisy when the wind flaps the tarpaulin, but it is truly wonderful to stand inside this workshop.

We take in the space and chat, all the while on a lean, the dry dirt workshop floor going with the gentle slope of the land. MacMillan is friendly and low-key, comfortable in his workspace.

"You don't need flash workshops or tools to make products," says MacMillan, while running his hand over a newly made cheese board, a pile of others stacked up alongside.

"I often say to people if they need a laugh, come and look at my workshop", says MacMillan. "There's always a sense of amusement on faces by how things are adapted or made."

This space may seem a bit dusty and old-world, but everything has a place, including the rustic ablutions block, cleverly utilising an old wine barrel, and screened from public view by a fence made from grape cuttings. Not only that, but the view from this workshop is inspiring, a rural outlook complete with nearby stream and large shade trees.

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Each sea container functions as a shed, one for storing materials and one for tools.

We climb into the one with tools and MacMillan pulls out some big fibreglass moulds used for casting concrete sculptures. He explains that some take up to 8 sections when casting, to avoid undercutting. It is clearly a very time consuming process, not for the impatient.

As appealing as this outdoor workshop may be, there has come a time for MacMillan to get a more permanent purpose-built space, which also includes a new gallery area and an upstairs office, windows with shutters allowing a view from above into both areas.

We look at the new building in progress, and naturally it is no ordinary knock-up shed. The first feature is the use of imported terracotta tiles on the roof. These are not curved, but more like wobbly shingles to look at, and according to MacMillan, will eventually age gracefully while growing a coat of moss. Builder Tim Edwards, an Englishman, explains that the whole building is made without mechanical fixings, from the foundations up. It features massive beams hewn from aromatic Lawsons Cypress, all locked together using mortise and tenon techniques.

MacMillan talks of future plans. As members of the Moutere Artisans, he and Jackie Crowe are keen to collaborate with others in the local community to draw visitors. They already host visitors who are often taken by what MacMillan makes and some stay for periods of time to have lessons in the workshop. When the new building is complete he talks of running workshops for groups of people, local and international, passing on his skills in concrete casting, mould making, wood working, ceramics and more. The B & B will then offer the whole experience for travellers who want to relax, explore the nearby wineries and other artists, plus get involved in one of MacMillan's workshops. It will be a sad day when he moves from his outdoor workshop, but the new space will open up a whole new realm of opportunities for this forward thinking man. And just to confirm he is making the right move, the tarpaulin will probably blow off the outdoor workshop the day he moves indoors.

Michael MacMillan Sculpture, 252 Neudorf Rd, Upper Moutere. Open 7 days, 11am-5pm.

Ph: 035432252, 0210691401. www.michaelmacmillan.co.nz

- Nelson

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