Nelson Arts Travel Guide

The Nelson region embraces creativity and design, and is renowned throughout New Zealand for its wealth of talented artisans and art-loving individuals. Painters, potters, sculptors, glass artists, wood turners, weavers, carvers, jewellers, furniture makers, and so the list goes on, have made their home here by the sea, forming and becoming part of the creative landscape.

The region revels in its artistic make-up, supporting up-and-coming artists and celebrating its creative spirit with various arts and music festivals, held throughout the year.

The largest ever conceived in this region was the World of Wearable Art (WOW) Awards, where art is taken off the wall and used to adorn the body in wildly wonderful (and somewhat wacky!) ways. It was the brainchild of local sculptor Suzie Moncrieff in 1987 and the first show which had 50 entries, was held in a large tent.

Today the production is a major annual event and although the show itself is now staged in Wellington, Nelson was its birthplace and this is celebrated at the World of Wearable Art and Collectable Cars Museum. It’s located near the airport, making it the perfect first or last stop on the Nelson arts trail for those flying in or out of the city.

Inside this aesthetically pleasing architecturally designed building there are two main galleries to view. One houses collectable cars while the other is dedicated to wearable art and showcases creatively displayed garments from the annual awards show, housed in a unique gallery using theatrical lighting, movement and music. This gallery also includes an ultra-violet room where the Illumination Illusion section of the show can be experienced. Next door an audio-visual presentation tells the story of WOW and features dramatic excerpts from the show. Local paintings can be viewed and purchased from the Reflections Gallery and a retail shop provides a glimpse into the works of local clothing, jewellery and ceramics artists.

In the city, The Suter Te Aratoi o Whakatu, the public art museum for the Nelson region is central to the local’s love of art, for here a substantial collection of NZ artworks has been exhibited for more than 100 years. The Suter’s collection includes paintings by CF Goldie, DK Richmond, Mina Arndt, Frances Hodgkins, Philip Clairmont, Jane Evans, Tony Fomison, Austin Davies and Sally Burton.

The city also boasts a variety of modern boutique artisan stores which showcase local Nelson artworks including Element Gallery, Shine, South Street Gallery, Jewel Beetle, Rome, Catastrophe and Catchment Gallery – just to name a few! Element Gallery and Books is located at the Nelson Visitor Information Centre on the corner of Trafalgar and Halifax Streets and is an excellent starting point for viewing the very best of Nelson Art and New Zealand books.

And with more working artists in Nelson, per capita, than anywhere else in NZ, it’s not hard to find them hard at work in their home studios or galleries! For many, a telephone appointment should first be made and the Nelson Guide Book, Art in its Own Place provides a comprehensive guide with a complete listing of artists’ works, phone numbers and addresses. At centres such as the Grape Escape Complex in Richmond which incorporates a café, art and craft gallery, Living Light Candles gallery and workshop, Prenzels Liqueurs tasting room and cellar door for two quality Nelson wines – Te Mania and the organic, Richmond Plains – a variety of local and regional arts can be viewed, while the Coolstore Gallery on Mapua Wharf is one of the region’s funkiest galleries and showcases the works of more than 60 established and emerging artists.

At the Höglund Art Glass International Glass Centre, an informative guided tour of the facility’s glass gallery, store, museum and glassblowing studio, departs daily at 1.30 pm. Husband and wife team, glass artists Ola Höglund and Marie Simberg-Höglund design and produce their unique hand-blown art glass using several complex glassblowing techniques including Graal, Ariel and Incalmo.

Watching glassblowers as they work is a riveting business. Ola describes the work of a glassblower as being a bit like a musician – every day is spent practising and training. “As an artist I am fascinated by making a form with the human breath,” he says, “the heat of the furnace and the molten, soft glass are my inspiration.”

Those who think it looks easy will soon realise their error if they enrol on one of the Höglund’s popular courses – glass bead making, paperweight making or lampworks. Classes are held throughout the year and no previous experience is necessary.