Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Art of a Hut

 I am Felicity Deverell, a young Northland artist with a passion for traditional art and for adventure in the beautiful outdoors. Two years ago, with the help of my friend, Caleb Bergstrom, I had an idea for creating a collection of artworks portraying backcountry huts. There are over one thousand huts throughout the bush, mountain ranges, and national parks of New Zealand along a large network of tramping tracks. Before I meet Caleb I didn’t know much about these huts, except for the one near us at Lane Cove, Whangaroa Harbour. But over the last two years I have been amazed at how many there are and how unique these huts are to our country. Not many countries have such a well established system of huts which you can tramp to through amazing scenery and stay at for a small amount. The cost of huts vary, some are free to stay in and are very basic, having only a water supply and perhaps a smoky fire. Others are more expensive and newly built with double glassing and gas, in popular tourist areas these even require booking. There is something for everyone and every hut is a new experience. Many of these huts are full of New Zealand history, of settlers, shepherds, hunters, trappers and deer cullers, and tramping and climbing enthusiasts; the stories that go with them all would full many books.

    For the last two years I have been on several tramping/drawing trips lasting weeks at a time to the various ranges in the North Island. I have tramped to and drawn forty-five huts in the Kaimais, Te Ureweras, Kaweka, Ruahine, and Tararua Ranges, the Orongorongo Valley, and the Whanganui National Park. I have mostly done graphite, pastel, or charcoal drawings of the huts, but for a few huts I have taken in my oil paints and painted ‘en plein air’, as it is called in painters terms, meaning painting in the open air. At each hut in sun, rain, fog, or snow I would set up with an easel, or just a drawing board on my lap to draw the hut. I had to figure out a few things about how to carry art supplies and paper without getting it damaged in pretty rough conditions. I also took along my sketchbooks one of which I filled entirely with watercolour sketches of various dunnies, which is what the toilets, or long drops, are know as.

   We had all sorts of adventures along the way and meet interesting people. We met people walking the length of New Zealand, we met hunters, trappers, families tramping with babies, and young people like us out for an adventure. I ate possum for the first time (and then a few times after that) and we also had on the menu: venison, goat, pig, eel, and trout, to go with our rice and porridge.  I discovered the whole culture of tramping and how addictive it is to get back out there into the middle of nowhere. There is nothing like looking back over a huge expanse of sky and a panoramic view after climbing for hours on end, it’s a view that is earned and is all the more beautiful for the sweat on your back. Then there is that first sight of a hut after hours of tramping through a never ending bush. That hut, in the middle of nowhere, means rest, food, shelter, warmth, and a good sleep. A very beautiful sight, all tampers and hunters will agree, and one which I have tried to capture in my artwork. Glorifying these humble huts made of tin or slabs of roughly hewn timber, not simply for the sake of a good art, but to show them through the eyes of those who see them after long hours of tramping or hunting in rough terrain, when even the most rugged hut seems magnificent, has been my goal.

   In between trips out into the bush I have been at home in my studio working on some larger paintings using the materials gathered from the field. There will be about ten of these painting at my exhibition, but most of the work on display will be my original drawings completed on site at the huts. These have been beautifully framed by my very skilled father in native kauri wood. All the works will be for sale at The Art of a Hut exhibition which is being held at Reyburn House, Whangarei for three weeks from the 10th until the 29th of November. I have an opening evening to which the public is invited to attend on the evening of the 18th from 5 – 7pm. There, you will get a chance to meet me and everybody who has been involved and hear our stories over a drink and a few nibbles. I would love to see you there and I am excited to share my adventures and my art.

  I would like to thank Caleb Bergstrom without whom this would never have got beyond an idea, and who has taught me that I am capable of more than I think, and shown me how to love - we are getting married in January . When Caleb went away to University and I thought I’d be left on my own to do it I came to realize that I have some truly amazing friends. Guillaume Bourdin has been my right hand man and has helped me organize for many trips and kept me on track. Thank you to him and to Thomas Bourdin, Pauline Bourdin, Jojo Land, Lewis McCullum, Nathaniel Deverell, Jerusalem Gilbert, Marion Bourdin, Luc Bourdin, Dominic Land, and Esther Sommerson, all of whom have come with me on various tramping ‘hut hops’ and without whom I could never have completed The Art of a Hut project. I would also like to thank Swazi who helped us a little with the project and DOC who gifted me a hut pass.

   And it’s not all over yet because next year I will be working a book about the experiences of an artist in the bush, about the adventures we had and the lessons learnt. I don’t know when or how it will be published yet, but it will come. You can follow my progress and further adventures as an artist on this blog

Me, Caleb, and Thomas Mt. Ruapehu

Caleb and I in the Kaimai Range

Drawing Makino Hut, Kawekas

Jojo, Thomas, and Pauline, critiquing my work!

Middle Hill hut, Kawekas

Caleb's first deer, Te Ureweras

Trout and eel in the Kawekas, Rock's Ahead hut

Kiwi Mouth Hut, Kawekas

Old Manson Hut, Kawekas

Back Ridge Hut, Kawekas

At the end of a tramp

Whanganui Forest Park. 

Blue Range Hut, Tararuas

Arete Forks Hut., Tararuas

Rainbow in the Tararuas
Dominic,.  Marion, Pauline, Guillaume, me, and Jojo

Caleb and I in Ellis Hut, Ruahines
Me and Caleb at Sunrise Hut, Ruahines

Nikau Hut in the Orongorongo Valley, with Jerusalem

Guillaume, me and Jerusalem

Ballard Hut, Kaweka Ranges

Makino Hut, Kaweka Ranges

Poutaki Hut, Wakarara Range

Field hut in the Tararuas

Portrait of the artist

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