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.