Out­sized pink snails, sen­tinel- stand­ing red meerkats, metal bun­nies, real bun­nies, glass birds and a man with bits miss­ing... cripes, what Matakana mad­ness is this?

THIS PAGE: Perched on the hill­side over­look­ing Sculp­tureum, two fig­ures en­ti­tled Call Se­cu­rity by Wai­heke artist Richard Wedekind are like slim- lined guardians of the prop­erty. The Grants love their real- life an­i­mals, in­clud­ing ger­man shep­herds, Zulu ( black), Hachiko (white) and Sheba ( brown). OP­PO­SITE: An­i­mals from vary­ing ecosys­tems co­habit in the sculp­ture garden in­clud­ing a po­lar bear by Marti Wong of Ro­torua, a leap­ing whale by Whanganui artist Jack Mars­den Mayer, red meerkats by the Crack­ing Art Group of Mi­lan and a deer (artist un­known) among the mondo grass.

IT’S A SQUALLY SATUR­DAY af­ter­noon in mid-win­ter, and An­thony Grant is do­ing what he loves. As vis­i­tors me­an­der through the Matakana sculp­ture gar­dens he has sin­gle-mind­edly cre­ated, he watches their ex­pres­sions and eaves­drops on con­ver­sa­tions. He’s look­ing for a smile, a laugh, a “wow” mo­ment upon which to hold.

An­thony seems like a man in con­trol. He is, af­ter all, a lead­ing bar­ris­ter in com­mer­cial law who ar­rives at the of­fice be­tween four and five each morn­ing and writes pro­lif­i­cally on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and trust dis­putes. But when he’s here at Sculp­tureum (a word he coined him­self), an un­fet­tered child­like side takes over. The world of lit­i­ga­tion and me­di­a­tion melts away to be re­placed by gi­gan­tic pink snails, fluffy over­sized bunny rab­bits and crazy or­ange hor­nets.

An­thony and Sandra Grant have spent 12 years de­vel­op­ing this 10-hectare prop­erty just north of the vil­lage. With ex­ten­sive le­gal nous un­der­pin­ning their ef­forts, the de­ci­sion to go for it was not rash – but it was a risk. Sandra, also a bar­ris­ter, got be­hind her hus­band’s dream, con­tribut­ing much of her le­gal in­come and co-sign­ing the bank lend­ing to as­sist them to de­sign and build the gar­dens and gal­leries, main­tain a small vine­yard and in­cor­po­rate an 80-seater fine din­ing res­tau­rant. She also pro­vided the en­cour­age­ment: “I told him he had bet­ter get started be­fore he runs out of time,” she says.

The cou­ple got to­gether when both their pre­vi­ous mar­riages had “run their course”. An­thony was a part­ner at the law firm for which they both worked. She liked his quirk­i­ness. “He drove a bur­gundy Daim­ler with cream leather up­hol­stery and pep­per-pot al­loys and played Thriller on the stereo at high deci­bels.” He was im­pressed by her in­tel­lect. They moved in to­gether on 21 June 1991 – the win­ter sol­stice. An­thony saw it as a sig­nif­i­cant date, a turn­around point. “He said we had reached the dark­est point and from now on things were go­ing to get lighter,” re­calls Sandra.

They are a com­ple­men­tary two­some. While An­thony keeps an ex­em­plary wardrobe, colour-cod­ing his shirts, Sandra’s style is more re­laxed. When she be­came step-mum to An­thony’s three boys, it was as con­fi­dante rather than dis­ci­plinar­ian. The cou­ple went on to have two boys of their own; both are keen mu­si­cians.

“Reuben’s small bed­room is crammed with elec­tronic mu­sic gear,” says Sandra. As the olds mull over the day’s events with a glass of their own syrah, band mem­bers pop round to join their youngest son in a jaz­z­fu­sion jam ses­sion.

As a se­nior com­mer­cial and civil lit­i­ga­tor, Sandra can match An­thony in the court­room, but she is also his sar­to­rial side­kick. To­day, as he dashes around the gar­dens hand­ing out al­monds to feed the colour­ful para­keets he sees as avian art, he sports a red hat and clash­ing pink shirt. Sandra’s garb is the all-black at­tire of the clas­sic artiste, in­clud­ing a beret. “My great-great-grand­fa­ther was French so I’m en­ti­tled,” she laughs.

It’s clear that the pair has weath­ered many storms, in­clud­ing a flood in 2011 when the cot­tage on the prop­erty was in­un­dated by a tide of green man­darins from the neigh­bour­ing or­chard. Sandra and the teenage boys tried to staunch the wa­tery flow with du­vets as An­thony set off into the night to slash down a stand of bam­boo that was pre­vent­ing the del­uge from es­cap­ing and mak­ing the whole sit­u­a­tion worse.

The front pad­dock where those tall stalks grew along the creek is now the aptly named Garden of Cre­ative Diver­sity. Here, among oth­ers, is a life-size drift­wood ele­phant by Whanganui-based artist Jack Mars­denMayer, a boy-with-dol­phin foun­tain (a replica of An­drea del Ver­roc­chio’s orig­i­nal work in the Palazzo Vec­chio in Florence), an overtly sen­ti­men­tal bronze sculp­ture of a lit­tle girl, and a gi­gan­tic comb-shaped rock from Puhipuhi in North­land.

An­thony ab­hors the snob­bery of the of­fi­cial “art” world. While he loves Cha­gall, and the col­lec­tion in­cludes the Be­laru­sian artist’s work (dis­played along­side a Matisse and an un­signed Pi­casso), his cu­ra­tion aims to en­ter­tain. He is a sort of Dr Doolit­tle-meets-Willy Wonka, craft­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that is the­atri­cal and mis­chievous – a mélange of known, un­known, imag­i­na­tive and real, thought­ful and friv­o­lous. He has writ­ten down-to-earth de­scrip­tors of the art, brought in flem­ish gi­ant rab­bits to in­habit “Rab­biton” and el­e­gant golden pheas­ants “be­cause where else would you get to see them?” A lazy river of choco­late might very well be next.

He is an in­di­vid­ual who has ob­vi­ously pon­dered long and hard about the way we in­ter­act with art, but how did this love af­fair be­gin? “My fa­ther was an in­surance man­ager – and he seemed un­happy,” says An­thony.

An­thony is a sort of Dr Doolit­tle-meets-Willy Wonka, craft­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence that is the­atri­cal and mis­chievous – a mélange of known, un­known, imag­i­na­tive and real

“He was into art and bought oils that I thought looked like wall­pa­per.” Al­though his mother had some artis­tic train­ing, she did lit­tle to in­stil this pas­sion in An­thony. “I may have ge­net­i­cally picked up some­thing, but let’s just say I came from a rea­son­ably dys­func­tional fam­ily.”

An­thony was 16 when his fa­ther died and he was sent to live with his mother and her par­ents in Eng­land while he went to study at Bris­tol Univer­sity. The day he steeled him­self to en­ter an art shop in Bru­ton – “I was al­most too fright­ened to go in the door” – and came across some full-scale Rodin works, he was spell­bound. “I had never heard of him but I couldn’t be­lieve how wonderfully pow­er­ful those sculp­tures were.”

His own col­lec­tion started with glass (the liv­ing room of the Grants’ Auck­land home is burst­ing with it) and has moved on to em­brace, well, pretty much ev­ery­thing in 3D form. “It’s been an or­ganic process,” he says of the way Sculp­tureum has grown. As lawyers, the pair was pedan­tic when dot­ting the “i”s and cross­ing the “t”s on the pa­per­work, but such dili­gence at times dis­solved in the face of is­sues that crop up in de­sign-and-build ter­ri­tory. The res­tau­rant mor­phed into a far big­ger space than en­vis­aged; some works proved un­suit­able for out­door dis­play as colours be­came cloudy and dull while “treated” metal pieces turned to rust. Many hun­dreds of palms have been lost to frost and to an un­sta­ble root struc­ture.

In sin­gu­lar pur­suit, the cou­ple has ploughed a con­sid­er­able for­tune into the ven­ture, go­ing with­out a proper overseas hol­i­day for 10 years. “It has been a huge fi­nan­cial bur­den,” says An­thony, al­most jovially. “But I wanted to cre­ate a place that would in­spire peo­ple. And I will find a way to make it work.” The $49 en­trance fee, he says, is meant to keep the ex­pe­ri­ence un­crowded.

With so many ideas he still wishes to un­leash, An­thony sleeps lit­tle, works a lot. He ap­pears as a man pos­sessed – a bar­ris­ter with the soul of a rebel. A se­ries of quo­ta­tions dis­played in the gar­dens in­cludes one by Banksy who lam­basts the art es­tab­lish­ment, and sev­eral from Steve Jobs, whom An­thony views as some­thing of an un­con­ven­tional hero. He no doubt re­lates to the 1997 Ap­ple ad­vert where Jobs said: “The peo­ple who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

As a com­mer­cial en­deav­our, it re­mains to be seen whether Sculp­tureum will soar spec­tac­u­larly or crash and burn. The ven­ture may not change the world but one thing’s for cer­tain – it has al­ready trans­formed the lives of its co-cre­ators.

WIN One of two dou­ble passes to Matakana’s mag­i­cal sculp­ture park. See thisn­zlife. co. nz

THIS PAGE: Colour is a critical el­e­ment that en­cap­su­lates An­thony’s joy­ful take on the art scene. Gi­gan­tic pink snails by the Crack­ing Art Group of Mi­lan are guar­an­teed to make vis­i­tors to the garden smile. OP­PO­SITE: The Fish­ing Boy by Nathan Scott of Canada tries his luck un­aware of a lurk­ing croc­o­dile; drift­wood el­e­ments team with clas­si­cal stat­u­ary and a Ja­pane­sein­spired torii tun­nel.

THIS PAGE: The cou­ple’s Re­muera home has been slightly “emp­tied” by the sculp­ture garden project but plenty of art­ful in­ter­est re­mains. The LED work, on the left of the door to the for­mal din­ing room, is by New Zealand artist Gina Jones. It keeps good com­pany with works by Cha­gall, al­though Sam­son (the cat) seems sin­gu­larly unim­pressed. OP­PO­SITE: The cou­ple has built up an in­ter­na­tional col­lec­tion over the years, in­clud­ing a metal and glass blue- spot­ted fish by Ja­panese artist Dens­aburou Oku, a wo­ven glass bas­ket by Rachel Raven­scroft and an english bull ter­rier by Kerry Jame­son, both of whom hail from Eng­land; the up­stairs din­ing room opens onto a bal­cony over­look­ing foun­tain court­yards which An­thony de­signed hav­ing seen the Is­lamic gar­dens in Cor­doba, Seville and Gre­nada.

OP­PO­SITE, CLOCK­WISE: The cou­ple ren­o­vated the open­plan kitchen when they moved in, keep­ing the oak par­quet floors. Sandra likes to cook when she gets the chance and the kitchen is a gen­er­ous space for a busy blended fam­ily; Chance, the cat, takes it easy in the mas­ter bed­room where an an­tique gilded corona was cut to the pro­por­tions of the bed. The im­age on the wall is a Cha­gall litho­graph; a Jeff Koons Puppy sits on a ch­est of draw­ers flanked by lamps with stands made from balustrades from Bordeaux. THIS PAGE: An­thony sports a French gen­darme’s hat from his col­lec­tion. Shelves in the pool room are de­voted to glass – his first love – in­clud­ing some by Garry Nash (top level) and Aus­tralian Tim Shaw ( be­low); ar­chi­tec­tural mod­els of fa­mous build­ings (in­clud­ing the en­trance to the Vic­to­ria & Al­bert Mu­seum) are on dis­play in the study.

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