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Help needed for creative space

John Dennison and Thérèse Quinlivan, founders of The Old Courthouse Art Gallery, need some extra help to keep the space open. PHOTOS/ISABELLE CLEARYB

Isabella Cleary

This weekend is the last chance for art lovers to visit Featherston’s Old Courthouse Art Gallery before it closes for the winter.

After that, the gallery may not be able to reopen if additional help isn’t found in time for spring.

The gallery was set up in the historic courthouse building on Fitzherbert Street in December by Featherston couple Thérèse Quinlivan and John Dennison, both artists themselves.

It has since housed work from various local artists, mostly from South Wairarapa — sculptors, photographers, jewellers, woodworkers, and more.

Quinlivan, a textile and felt artist, said the gallery had been a “marvellous outlet” for artists to showcase and sell their work.

“We opened it because a lot of artists were complaining on Facebook that they had nowhere to sell their work. The pandemic meant that many exhibitions and markets were cancelled.”

So the gallery can stay open three days a week, Quinlivan and Dennison are in need of volunteers to help with front-of-house tasks and social media management.

Book-inspired figurines by Featherston artist Olivera Milojevic – a feature of the gallery’s Booktown exhibition.

Quinlivan said it would “be a shame” if they couldn’t reopen the gallery in the spring — but the commitment and workload was too much for her and Dennison to keep up with on a permanent basis.

“I’m retired, but I’m not living like I’m retired!” she said.

“We don’t mind doing it voluntarily, but we can’t do it all the time.

“It’s such an important place to keep around. People put their heart and soul into their artwork, and if there’s nowhere for it to go, it’s unappreciated.”

Quinlivan said the gallery had fewer visitors than anticipated over the last six months, potentially due to people not knowing it was there.

“We haven’t had the numbers we were expecting, but with Booktown [this month], so many people turned up!”

In honour of this year’s Featherston Booktown, the gallery hosted an exhibition of creations inspired by books or stories — including figurines made of book pages and a miniature replica of the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia series.

Freelance photographer and featured gallery artist Pete Monk said the space had been “a breath of fresh air” for Featherston.

“A regular artistic vehicle for artists to showcase and sell their work has been missing from Featherston,” Monk said

“We’re a body of artists, and it represents us and our work.”

Monk said he hoped some extra pairs of helping hands would be found to reopen after the winter — as the gallery “serviced people whose talents would be otherwise hidden”.

The gallery has connected many local artists socially and has facilitated regular meet-ups.

Acrylic artist Kimberlee Le Ceve said the gallery introduced her to many fellow creatives, and talking to others had encouraged her to exhibit her work.

“Everyone thinks their work isn’t important, but talking to other artists gives you more confidence to display your stuff.”

South Wairarapa Mayor Alex Beijen, who originally advised Quinlivan to pitch her idea for the gallery to the council, said providing an outlet for creative products was something he encouraged.

“The community is better off for the initiative,” he said.

  • The Old Courthouse Art Gallery will be open for its final days this Friday, Saturday and Sunday (June 24 to 26) between 10am to 4pm. Many pieces of art will be discounted. If you are interested in volunteering at the gallery, contact Therese Quinlivan via email at [email protected].

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