Catlins hidden treasure

22:45, Jan 29 2014
The Southland Times photo
Blair Somerville at his his gallery, The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai in the Catlins

A small and remote gallery in the Catlins - where the most common question for the owner is ''are you nuts?'' - has beaten Te Papa in a nationwide travel award competition.

The Lost Gypsy Gallery was named the Museums and Galleries winner for 2013 in the Traveller Voted Awards run by the website

Rankers co-owner Cymen Cricksaid the awards had been going for five years and Wellington's Te Papa had won the category for the past four.

The Lost Gypsy Gallery always received positive feedback, but last year was the first time it garnered enough visitor reviews to enter the awards, he said.

More than 4000 tourism activities throughout the country qualified for the 2013 awards and the winners were chosen from 8000 reviews, with votes cast by the travellers themselves. 

When the Clutha Leader checked last week, the first eight comments all scored the gallery 10/10.


One review from a German traveller read ''this is surely a New Zealand treasure. We stumbled across this bus that is run by an interesting local person and were astounded by his creations''.

So, what exactly is the Lost Gypsy Gallery?

Tucked away in Papatowai, it is the creation of Blair Somerville, who with help of brother Tony, has constructed a gallery to satisfy the curious. 

On the rankers website, Mr Somerville said his aim was to offer a ''creative place of wonder, beauty, gadgets and gizmos, made mostly from natural or recycled materials that will warm the heart of even the most cynical''.

Meanwhile Lonely Planet calls it a ''fascinating'' gallery based on ''found objects and and specialising in self-wound automata and things that go whirr''.

The gallery opened at the end of 1999 and displays a mix of interactive gadgets and art in a house bus and garden area.

Mr Somerville described himself as ''chuffed'' with the award, especially since he beat Te Papa.

''It was quite good, the sort of thing you want to tell Mum and Dad.'' 

He used mostly recycled material and beach finds for his creations, and while people often dropped off things off, he was running out of shed space, he admitted. 

Mr Somerville would like to spend more time on his art and was considering organising an exhibition in a couple of years time. 

''It's hard to get away from puns, but I'd like to go in a more artistic direction.

''Humour is evident throughout the gallery from the piano rigged to make objects move at the touch of a key to the bicycle powered television.

He reckoned the most difficult aspect was finding the time to turn his ideas into reality.

''It can be really frustrating...the key skill his patience.''Some pieces can take weeks to finish, even without any distractions, which is partly why the gallery shut during winter, he said.

The Lost Gypsy Gallery is open in summer from Labour Weekend, except on Wednesdays.

The Southland Times