Axmin­ster artist

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - IDEAS -

Steve Whit­ting­ton has been a car­pet layer for most of his life. He al­ways loved art at school and had thoughts of go­ing to art school but didn’t take that road. Then, four years ago, he was dis­cussing ideas about cre­at­ing car­pet art with his part­ner, Su­san Gargiulo. She knew Whit­ting­ton was up for the chal­lenge.

So be­gan a jour­ney that has al­lowed him to com­bine his trade while up­cy­cling and hav­ing an artis­tic out­let, which Whit­ting­ton calls FloorArtz.

‘‘I like axmin­ster car­pets that are up­cy­cled and Ki­wiana im­ages,’’ says Whit­ting­ton. ‘‘I keep an eye out on Trade Me for them, but it’s get­ting harder to find, ev­ery­one wants them now.’’

Work­ing from his garage at home in Nel­son, Whit­ting­ton uses a tem­plate to cut out sec­tions of car­pet and re­con­fig­ure them into large wall hang­ings, fea­tur­ing Ki­wiana themes; retro ladies with sump­tu­ous hair, hop scotch, stamps and noughts and crosses de­signs, roses, po­hutukawa flow­ers and the nikau palm. Many have ap­peared in public spa­ces around the top of the south, most re­cently on the wall of the Panama Cafe in Nel­son. He has also regularly ex­hib­ited at Mor­ri­son St Cafe, and had work at Art Expo last year.

Whit­ting­ton sources car­pets through his work, of­ten find­ing the older styles when re­plac­ing car­pets in homes, and res­cues pieces in good con­di­tion from the out­side edges of a room.

‘‘The mid­dle parts are usu­ally the most worn, so I cut the outer sec­tions which are of­ten un­used and in great con­di­tion.’’

Axmin­ster car­pet was pop­u­lar in the 60s and 70s, with dis­tinc­tive vi­brant colours on in­tri­cate de­signs, and at that time, made in mills in New Zealand from all wool.

‘‘It’s ex­pen­sive to make axmin­ster car­pets to­day as each colour is a dif­fer­ent dyed strand that is wo­ven into the pat­tern,’’ says Whit­ting­ton. ‘‘ It’s much more costly than the cur­rent trend in car­pets, which are gen­er­ally un­pat­terned and one tone.’’

Axmin­ster is still made, gen­er­ally as be­spoke pat­terns for ho­tels, the­atres, air­ports and cor­po­rates. The plain mod­ern car­pets pro­vide the per­fect back­drop for Whit­ting­ton to in­lay his de­signs. He then has them pro­fes­sion­ally bound.

Prices range from $450 to $900 per piece, some tak­ing many hours to con­struct, par­tic­u­larly the fe­male se­ries which have eyes that need to be care­fully con­structed be­fore in­lay­ing into the car­pet.

Whit­ting­ton prefers to make what he likes rather than tak­ing or­ders.

‘‘Peo­ple want me to do com­mis­sions but I want to stay true to my­self and make what I like,’’ says Whit­ting­ton. ‘‘I’m happy that as part of my art work I am pre­serv­ing a part of our history, what we call Ki­wiana.’’

Fu­ture plans for Whit­ting­ton in­clude wind­ing down as a car­pet layer, mak­ing more FloorArtz, more moun­tain bik­ing, a North Is­land road trip and some for­mal art stud­ies.

Steve Whit­ting­ton with some of his work.

Rose de­sign on a car­pet.

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