The legendary work of artist Alice Cowdrey is slow to make, and it’s meditative for the impatient creator. She lives in Sakura, New Plymouth, with her three children, Jimmy, 10, Hazel, 9, and Frida, 6.
Alice Cowdery: My ex-wife, Simon, and I moved to Taranaki 10 years ago. We bought a house and two acres about 20 km south of New Plymouth on the coast.
It’s a beautiful spot. You can see the mountain and the ocean. We moved here from Nelson because it was really cheap ($270k). We couldn’t afford to buy in Nelson, which meant I could stay home with the kids on one income.
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We’ve been to Taranaki twice for the Parihaka Peace Festival, a great music festival that doesn’t even exist anymore. As a result, we both fell in love with the environment and the wild nature of the coast.
When we broke up, I moved to the village where the children go to school in Ōakura. I rented for a year, then realized that renting here is very expensive, so I thought I would look to buy. It was hard to look at my bids.
In the end, a friend’s parents offered to sell this house to me privately. I own it with my parents, who are both sheep and beef farmers in King Country.
The place is pretty epic, beautiful and way too big for me on my own. It has lots of well-established trees and a stream along the back border where the kids play.
The house was built in the 1980s, in an attempt to be sophisticated in design, quite funky. It has funny skylights all the time, they try to get the light in, but if they faced the house another way, it would have a better side.
The biggest thing I’ve done since buying in May of last year is converting my large brick double garage into an art studio.
We primed it, insulated it, put in a new roof, broke down the garage door and put in a sliding door and windows. It’s very cool. I am just in the process of buying furniture to host workshops.
I host a lot of felting workshops. We’re on the road near the school, so I’ll start art lessons after school – like kids led creative play. It comes from that place where I walked into my kids’ classes and I see that they all have to do the same thing.
We will use different media; Paint, clay, papier-mâché and felting.
I do a lot of workshops, I teach for schools, organizations and classes in galleries, I teach at Polytech in Whanganui.
I am self-made with everything. I was working as a journalist and needed a creative outlet. I went to the Ngatomotte fair, bought heaps of felting supplies, went home, explored and created them.
It is a dry felting technique where a barbed needle is used for woolen cakes frequently. It intertwines and compresses the fibers together. It is a repetitive method that takes a long time.
For me, it’s meditative. Since the process is so time consuming, and because I am naturally impatient, it makes me appreciate the journey of making something.
I use all natural materials, but mostly wool, so the fibres, the fur, the feathers, the human hair – which gets a mixed response. I use some clay and dried flowers, papier-mache.
My work is mostly needle-feeling and three-dimensional in nature. Then I combine knitting and sewing.
My work is a legendary exploration of the subconscious, transformation, and nature. It relates to the ties of my ancestors, my Czech heritage, and things that do not necessarily exist in this physical world.
The things that happen in my dreams are central to my work: they are the embodiment of the realm of the unconscious.
Crows and snakes come a lot: the crow is a mystical messenger, and the snake is about transformation or change.
It’s also a documentation of changes that have happened to me over the past two or three years, including the separation from my longtime partner, the father of the children. We’ve probably been together for 15 years, and so it’s a process of separating myself from a life that didn’t represent my true self.
We have a close co-parenting relationship, so it’s not neglecting that relationship, it’s more about living with myself.
Simon and I share children; It is subject to change no matter what. We have dinner together once a week, and we still have a holiday together. People think it’s out of the norm to have a good relationship.
He’s working with us, and the kids seem happy and settled.
I sell my work through exhibitions or through word of mouth. People who have seen my work often buy more than one thing. People sent me via Instagram. Most of the things I sell.
Taranaki has a very creative community of talented artists, and it’s a great community to be a part of.
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