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Women draw on art for strength

Masterton’s King Street Artworks hosts women’s only days in the spirit of preserving and prioritising women’s mental health. PHOTOS/ELLIE FRANCO

Every Friday, King St Artworks in Masterton dedicates itself to Women’s Day.

It’s a day where women throughout Wairarapa can come together to share experiences and offer support through creativity.

King St Artworks studio manager, Linda Tilyard, said that 25 years ago, when King St began, they realised women had a few other issues in terms of mental health and well-being: “A lot of dysfunctional relationships fall on women with spouses and children,” she said.

“They’re often caregivers of those who are unwell. Mental health issues for women quite often surround gender politics, so to create a women-only space was part of our original kaupapa.

“King St Artworks prioritised inclusivity and preserving the well-being of those who take part. With a newly refurbished gallery to exhibit attendants’ pieces, the team used art to address the stigma attached to mental health.

“People come in quite shy, quite shut down, quite institutionalised,” Tilyard said.

“We’ve had some people of an older generation who are part of the tail-end of institutionalised care, for what’s deemed to be a mental-health problem.

“They come in and they feel like they need to ask for their rights for things that are their right.

“And I’ve seen people like that come in and then just blossom, just totally realise that they’re valued and they have a lot to give.”


Vanessa Maxwell is an artist who has struggled with anxiety since the first lockdown of 2020. She said she would not go shopping because of fear of the unknown.

“Coming [to King St Artworks] and talking about it and just focusing on the task at hand – whether it be painting, colouring in – has settled me down a lot,” Maxwell said.

“It’s definitely made me more confident in terms of knowing that I can do it. That’s pretty empowering. The artists are an amazing bunch of people.

“We are like whanau. I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Joanna Hehir moved to Wairarapa eight years ago from London where she worked as a fashion designer. She is now passing her skills on by tutoring women in sewing to help build self-esteem.

“I was very grateful when I got the chance to come here and be one of the facilitators,” Hehir said.

“I believe art is vital for our mental health –absolutely vital. I believe doing something with your hands, and being creative is very important.”

One of Hehr’s workshop attendees, Leanne Leighton, is experiencing the transformative power of creativity and kinship. Leighton said she had come a long way and when she was not at King St Artworks she couldn’t wait to return.

Tilyard said Women’s Day worked. “People are very creative. They’re born creative, but a lot of social setup and structure denies them that, or says that doesn’t matter as much as this does. So they do that most of their lives. I see people struggling to remember that creative side, so if we could just bring that in more, it would be better.”

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