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WHEN CHIZEL MEETS BRUSH

REINSPIRED: Jason Akuhata-Brown says his work refurbishes and refreshes heirlooms and objects so future generations can put them to good use. Picture by Liam Clayton
INSPIRED: Artist Rosie Cruddas has taken inspiration from women for her latest series, with paintings already selling for thousands. Picture by Paul Rickard

Sometimes you need to get stuck to get moving. At least that’s what happened to Rosie Cruddas. The artist and former gallery owner was feeling low.

Not wanting to draw, she forced herself to grab a canvas and get a painting, and Tairāwhiti is all the better for it. Her artwork and poetry has inspired a month-long gallery opening starting this Saturday.

“I don’t normally paint. It is usually pencil on paper but I got myself into a bit of a rut for a couple of months and didn’t want to do anything.

But once she picked up the paintbrush, the work — and subsequent sales — began picking up.

“I would do a time lapse each day on Facebook. I’d do a full day of painting and then auction it off with a dollar reserve to see what would happen,” Cruddas says.

Things went very well, with some pieces selling for thousands of dollars.

Cruddas caught Jason Akuhata-Brown’s attention. His workshop was overflowing with refurbished furniture and he called her and asked if she would be interested in doing a pop-up gallery — and Chizel and Brush was born.

The only problem for Cruddas was she had just sold all her pieces. So for the past three weeks she has been busy in her overalls painting a new series for the gallery.

“I’ll be painting right up until Friday night,” Cruddas says.

The series of paintings are inspired by the influential women in her life. Rather than the flowery plaques that often go alongside art, Cruddas wrote a poem to better translate her motivations.

The poem, titled “What is woman?”, is featured on page 16 as this week’s piece for the East Coast Poetry Society.

“The poem is based on inspirational women, women that have been impactful on my life.”

Cruddas says she has multiple female role models in her life.

Asked to name a few, she says her mother-in-law and sister-in-law are two.

“They’re both amazing mothers and will do anything for their family and everyone around them. They show kindness, amazing strength and positivity through tough situations.”

Cruddas transforms inspirational people into art, and in a way, Akuhata-Brown is doing the same with objects.

Akuhata-Brown’s workshop down Awapuni Road is a labyrinth of wood. Chairs sit on wardrobes. Tables lie around waiting. Draws open into cupboards. It is a museum and a hospital for furniture.

Everything inside has a story. Over the phone Jason describes a 1937 German-style sideboard he is bringing to the pop-up.

“Someone had started restoring it. It’s from the art deco era and that sort of opened a licence for people to start doing crazy stuff.”

He has painted the piece because the “wood wasn’t all that flash”, even though the design is beautiful.

Working with old pieces of furniture — some nearing ancient — can be a laborious process.

“You make (profit) on some and you don’t make as much on others,” Akuhata-Brown says.

“Some of these pieces are 110 years old and haven’t had any maintenance.”

The actual restoration work can be done relatively fast, it is often the dismantling and reassembling that can whittle away time.

“Anything that can come apart we take apart. Anything that’s screwed. Hinges off. Handles. That’s all time-consuming and assembling can be just as hard.”

But the hard work pays off.

“When people walk into a room and can identify something as our piece that’s a real compliment.

He’s not a one-man band, however. Akuhata-Brown says although his name is on the pieces, many others have helped over the years to restore the heirlooms.

“It’s definitely a product of a group of people who have helped me to no end, it’s a community thing.”

Furniture is about people, says Akuhata-Brown.

“I like bringing back the things our tipuna have put together. They have done it by hand and were so efficient and fussy with how they made things.

“If you can’t connect to people, you’re missing out on what we do. Because when you’re bringing furniture back to life you’re giving the next owner an opportunity to appreciate it and pass it on.”

He doesn’t knock the cheap items people buy, but says they don’t last as long.

Akuhata-Brown says he wants his pieces to stay with families for generations.

“I’d love to see heirlooms become a thing that people appreciate. You buy something for your kids and they’re encouraged to hand them down, and the more functional and practical things are the more likely they are going to stay in the family.

“The mass-produced furniture doesn’t hold up and that’s why we find it in the rubbish tips after a year. If you do that three times over, why don’t you just invest in a piece of history that will continue on?

“It’s three times as much, for sure, but you get what you pay for.”

Chizel and Brush can be found at 111 Gladstone Road, where Stephen Jones Photography used to be. The pop up gallery is having an opening event tomorrow night from 5.30pm. From this weekend, the pop-up will be open from Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm.