His­toric Cot­tage Thrives as Arts and Crafts Venue /

Latitude Magazine - - Contents - WORDS & IM­AGES Kim Newth

A her­itage hotspot, dis­cover the story of Stoddart Cot­tage

Two years af­ter Stoddart Cot­tage for­mally re-opened, fol­low­ing ex­ten­sive

work to re­pair earth­quake dam­age, Di­a­mond Har­bour’s old­est colo­nial dwelling is go­ing from strength to strength as com­mu­nity art gallery, craft

co-op and her­itage hotspot.

Lyt­tel­ton to Di­a­mond Har­bour is a lovely drive, bring­ing post­card-per­fect har­bour views at ev­ery bend. My desti­na­tion to­day is pic­turesque Stoddart Cot­tage, not far from Di­a­mond Har­bour’s vil­lage cen­tre.

It is a his­tor­i­cally evoca­tive site, as­so­ci­ated with renowned Canterbury im­pres­sion­ist painter Mar­garet Ol­rog Stoddart, who was born at the cot­tage on 3 Oc­to­ber 1865. Her Scot­tish fa­ther, Mark, had com­pleted the build­ing a few years ear­lier us­ing ma­te­ri­als im­ported from Aus­tralia. The fam­ily farmed on the head­land, known as Stoddart Point, un­til 1876 be­fore set­ting sail for Ed­in­burgh. They were away for three years but re­turned to Canterbury and, in 1882, Mar­garet en­rolled at the Canterbury Col­lege School of Art. This was the start­ing point of a long and il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer that saw her be­come one of the first women to suc­ceed as a pro­fes­sional artist in New Zealand. Over the years, her artis­tic fo­cus shifted from botan­i­cal stud­ies to in­creas­ingly im­pres­sion­is­tic land­scapes. She painted and ex­hib­ited suc­cess­fully not just in New Zealand but also Aus­tralia, Europe and Great Bri­tain.

How­ever, her warm and im­pres­sion­is­tic lo­cal scenes – of Stoddart Cot­tage, the wharf at Di­a­mond Har­bour and God­ley House – still rank as some of her most-loved works.

Many of her paint­ings are held in the Christchur­ch Art Gallery Te Puna o Wai­whetū col­lec­tion.

Stoddart Cot­tage to­day, with its tidy white picket fence and cot­tage gar­den, re­tains a strong sense of con­ti­nu­ity with the past. The carpark is by a stand of tall eu­ca­lypts, beloved of lo­cal bell­birds; these fast-grow­ing trees were first es­tab­lished in the area by Mark Stoddart with tim­ber used for posts, fenc­ing bat­tens and rails.

In­side the cot­tage is a room that serves as a small mu­seum, dis­play­ing artefacts re­cov­ered dur­ing earth­quake re­pair work in 2017. Among the finds was a haul of black beer bot­tles. Ex­cerpts from Mark Stoddart’s diary in­di­cate that he, along with friends and fam­ily, con­tin­ued to en­joy life af­ter com­ing here! Other items found in­cluded pin cush­ion dolls, bot­tle stop­pers, pipes, keys, items of cut­lery and crock­ery shards. An im­pos­ing 1871 photo of the Stoddart fam­ily on one wall shows six-year-old Mar­garet on her fa­ther’s knee.

This is not just a place to con­nect with the past though, as Stoddart Cot­tage also houses a de­light­ful art ex­hi­bi­tion space and a craft co-op, show­cas­ing work from the lo­cal cre­ative com­mu­nity. Since the cot­tage for­mally re-opened in April 2017, fol­low­ing full earth­quake re­pairs, these two

ini­tia­tives have been flour­ish­ing. Mar­garet Stoddart’s old fam­ily home is clearly in good hands, at the heart of a thriv­ing cre­ative com­mu­nity.

‘The ex­hi­bi­tion space is now booked up by artists un­til the end of 2020 and the craft co-op is go­ing from strength to strength with over 30 mem­bers to date,’ says Paula Smith, who chairs the Stoddart Cot­tage Trust, founded in 1998 fol­low­ing an ear­lier restora­tion by a team of vol­un­teers.

It is a won­der­ful come­back story, given how badly dam­aged the cot­tage was in the earth­quakes and after­shocks of 2011/12. The Trust it­self prac­ti­cally ceased to ex­ist for a time, with no meet­ings held be­tween 2011 and 2014.

‘I re­mem­ber com­ing across Paula in the gar­den one day and both of us look­ing through the win­dows and see­ing all the rub­ble from the col­lapsed chim­neys,’ re­calls cot­tage man­ager Char­lotte McCoy.

Tem­po­rary re­pairs en­abled the cot­tage to re-open to the public in mid-2014, with the Trust then re­group­ing but still strug­gling to get enough vol­un­teers. The cot­tage then closed again for a sec­ond round of re­pairs. It was around this time that the plan was for­mu­lated to of­fer the cot­tage as a base for an arts and crafts co-op. It was formed not long af­ter the fully re­paired cot­tage re-opened again in April 2017.

Ef­fec­tively, the cot­tage to­day op­er­ates as a sus­tain­able so­cial en­ter­prise, with small com­mis­sions from monthly art ex­hi­bi­tions and craft co-op sales used by the Trust to fund her­itage ac­tiv­i­ties and events. Vis­i­tor num­bers are grow­ing steadily. ‘We think a visit to the cot­tage is part of a great day out in Di­a­mond Har­bour,’ ob­serves Paula.

On the day of my visit, the cot­tage gallery has an ex­hi­bi­tion by semi-pro­fes­sional lo­cal pho­tog­ra­pher Steve Howard called Weav­ing Light from the Moun­tains to the

Sea. His fo­cus is on nightscape and land­scape im­agery in and around Lyt­tel­ton Har­bour, Banks Penin­sula and the Canterbury high coun­try. Steve is well-known lo­cally for

Vis­i­tor num­bers are grow­ing steadily. ‘We think a visit to the cot­tage is part of a great day out in Di­a­mond Har­bour.’

his in­ter­est­ing use of light and art­ful cre­ativ­ity and sev­eral of his im­ages were re­cently se­lected for wider pub­li­ca­tion by Getty Im­ages.

The craft co-op boasts high-stan­dard craft prod­ucts, from wooden toys to ce­ram­ics, soaps, cards and art­work, jew­ellery, knitwear and quilted items.

The Trust leases the cot­tage from the Christchur­ch City Coun­cil and its char­i­ta­ble pur­pose is to pro­mote and pre­serve the build­ing’s unique her­itage. Of­ten the her­itage and art themes over­lap here. Last Au­gust, the cot­tage hosted an ex­hi­bi­tion called Im­pres­sion­able, fea­tur­ing works by se­nior stu­dents at Di­a­mond Har­bour School, in­spired by Mar­garet’s story to pro­duce their own im­pres­sion­ist art.‘Some of them were lit­tle mas­ter­pieces,’ says Char­lotte.

Vol­un­teers help keep the cot­tage open and ac­ces­si­ble to the public three days a week: Fri­day, Satur­day and Sun­day, 10 am to 4 pm. A long-term goal for the Stoddart Cot­tage Trust is to ac­quire a small num­ber of Mar­garet Stoddart paint­ings for per­ma­nent dis­play.

Is­land af­ter more than 20 years tour­ing New Zealand schools to­gether to de­liver shows with an anti-bul­ly­ing mes­sage (‘You’ve Got the Power’). They want to be closer to fam­ily and spend more time with their grand­chil­dren. In fact, Sue took a break from tour­ing al­to­gether last year be­fore re­sum­ing her role as Greg’s mag­i­cal as­sis­tant. Even with a lighter tour­ing sched­ule, they will still be do­ing more than 300 shows to­gether this year.

‘Sue has sup­ported me all the way; we are best friends and get on ex­tremely well. We look up fam­ily and friends when we’re trav­el­ling around and have our favourite spots to stay.’

While El­gre­goe’s shows will be sorely missed in the

North, it’s a gain for Canterbury and the South Is­land. ‘Now that I’m back home, I have more op­por­tu­ni­ties to per­form lo­cally. I did a wed­ding last week; the cou­ple wanted me to en­ter­tain guests while they were hav­ing their pho­tos taken. It was great fun do­ing pocket tricks to a mixed crowd dressed in my tails!’

Over sum­mer, he and his par­rots were per­form­ing at Wil­low­bank (‘The Magic of Wildlife’) for the first time. Greg and Sue’s menagerie in­cludes two beau­ti­ful blue and gold macaws (Zazu and Ritchie), a talk­ing African grey par­rot (Ruby) with a vo­cab­u­lary of 120 words (in English and te reo), two eclec­tus par­rots (Ecce and Scar­lett), love­birds, doves, a pet rab­bit (Fluffy Bum) and guinea pigs.

‘All our par­rots are hand raised. They are com­pan­ion birds and part of our fam­ily and they also come to work with us. They thrive on the in­ter­ac­tion and be­ing a part of the shows – that’s the fun part of the day for them! We’re able to use the par­rots as a teach­ing tool.’

Adapt­abil­ity is the name of the game in en­ter­tain­ment. Greg and Sue have al­ways worked hard to keep their shows fresh and rel­e­vant, tweak­ing ma­te­rial de­pend­ing on the au­di­ence and con­text, whether it’s a school or a shop­ping mall, a child’s birth­day party or cor­po­rate func­tion.

‘I’m al­ways bring­ing in new tricks, new props and new il­lu­sions. I like to keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in the world of magic – it keeps on evolv­ing and there’s al­ways some­thing more clever com­ing out.’

Greg en­joys us­ing his skills as a ma­gi­cian to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence. The school shows all started with a phone call from a prin­ci­pal who had bul­ly­ing is­sues in his par­tic­u­lar school, who asked if Greg could come and talk to his stu­dents. Greg ended up cre­at­ing a show that mixed val­ues ed­u­ca­tion with magic.

More than a mil­lion stu­dents – some now teach­ers in their own right – have since seen var­i­ous ver­sions of the fast-paced show that com­bines tricks, ven­tril­o­quism, pup­pets, par­rots, po­ems, il­lu­sions and au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion with an anti-bul­ly­ing mes­sage.

‘I do want the show to make an im­pact. Be­fore go­ing on stage in front of stu­dents at any school, I al­ways say to Sue, “This show is for them.” I know it could be a turn­ing point for some­one who is be­ing bul­lied or for some­one who is a bully.’ He is of­ten ap­proached by strangers wish­ing to thank him for the work he’s done in schools over the years and for help­ing to change lives for the bet­ter.

As a Grand Mas­ter of Magic, Greg holds New Zealand’s high­est award for magic. He is also a mem­ber of the New Zealand Or­der of Merit for ser­vices to ed­u­ca­tion. There are framed let­ters of con­grat­u­la­tion on the study wall from the Queen and for­mer PM John Key. In 2009, he was also named New Zealand’s Top Chil­dren’s En­ter­tainer by the Va­ri­ety Artists Club of New Zealand.

It is jar­ring to learn that he was once re­garded as a nonachieve­r at St An­drew’s Col­lege and that he dropped out of school at 15 with no qual­i­fi­ca­tions. ‘My re­port said “He will con­tinue to fail un­less he ap­plies him­self ”. Aca­demic study and I did not go to­gether. I was al­ways more in­ter­ested in clown­ing around, play­ing jokes on peo­ple and hav­ing fun.’

Even­tu­ally, in 2011, he was in­vited back to St An­drew’s Col­lege to re­ceive a cul­tural award. What a turn­around, to be recog­nised as a ma­gi­cian by the same school that once told him to put away the tricks and do some real work. (It’s a dif­fer­ent story to­day; per­form­ing arts is now a big part of the cur­ricu­lum).

‘Of course, I never set out to win awards. I’ve loved keep­ing birds, do­ing magic and play­ing with pup­pets all my life. I’ve just done what I en­joy and love to think I can make

‘I’m al­ways bring­ing in new tricks, new props and new il­lu­sions. I like to keep up with what’s hap­pen­ing in the world of magic – it keeps on evolv­ing and there’s al­ways some­thing more clever com­ing out.’

a dif­fer­ence in the world. I of­ten say to kids, “Fol­low your dreams and your pas­sions”.’

Greg’s early in­ter­est in magic was sup­ported by his par­ents. His fa­ther worked for Air New Zealand and reg­u­larly took his fam­ily on over­seas hol­i­days. Greg usu­ally blew all his spend­ing money at magic shops and then spent hours prac­tis­ing tricks and putting on lit­tle shows for friends and fam­ily. He joined the Canterbury So­ci­ety of Ma­gi­cians and was men­tored by some well-known lo­cal ma­gi­cians of the day.

His first pay­ing gigs were in the toy sec­tion of Millers depart­ment store. Af­ter leav­ing school, he worked in the menswear depart­ment at Millers and also put on magic shows there dur­ing school hol­i­days. He then moved to another menswear store be­fore be­com­ing a trav­el­ling menswear sales rep, of­ten com­bin­ing this with a lit­tle magic on the side.

In his mid-twen­ties, he pur­sued his pas­sion by open­ing a magic shop, even­tu­ally mov­ing to a large shop in the Shades Ar­cade called The Cas­tle of Magic. One day Ja­son Gunn walked into the shop and be­gan talk­ing about a new show

Af­ter leav­ing school, he worked in the menswear depart­ment at Millers and also put on magic

shows there dur­ing school hol­i­days.

he was start­ing, The Son of a Gunn Show. Greg sug­gested he’d need a ma­gi­cian and, af­ter an in­ter­view with the pro­ducer, they agreed to a four-week trial of magic slots.

‘I was on the show for four years, from the first to last show [1992 to 1995], and did over 450 TV shows. It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with Ja­son and a great chance to learn about how to be an en­ter­tainer and how to make magic tricks more in­ter­est­ing.’

It laid the ground­work for his anti-bul­ly­ing work in schools, sup­ported by Trust­power for 12 years. Greg has since trav­elled all over the world speak­ing at var­i­ous con­fer­ences on ‘edu­tain­ment’ and how to com­bine magic with a mes­sage. Meet­ing other ma­gi­cians who share the same pas­sion has been a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.

At 59, Greg is as en­er­getic and ex­cited as ever to be work­ing his magic and ex­plor­ing new ventures, such as ac­cept­ing in­vi­ta­tions as a guest speaker. ‘I’m prob­a­bly the busiest I’ve ever been and it’s still fun. I’ve had a life­time of per­form­ing and feel as though I’m in my prime!’

TOP / Paula Smith (left), who chairs the Stoddart Cot­tage Trust, with cot­tage man­ager Char­lotte McCoy. ABOVE / Pho­tog­ra­pher Steve Howard, who is based in the Di­a­mond Har­bour area, with works from his win­ter ex­hi­bi­tion Weav­ing Light from the Moun­tains to the Sea.

ABOVE / Ce­ram­ics, needle­craft, met­al­craft, wooden toys, prints, paint­ings and jew­ellery are among many qual­ity craft items for sale at the cot­tage craft co-op.

ABOVE / No need to be alarmed … El­gre­goe can as­sure read­ers the boy in the photo is do­ing just fine!

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