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Connells Bay, Waiheke Island

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Connells Bay, at the remote eastern end of Waiheke Island, was settled and farmed in the early 1900’s by the Connell/Day family who were known to row across the harbour for the night when they fancied a bit of a knees up, then row back to the island to milk the cows in the morning.

That pioneering spirit is alive and well in the bay’s present owners, Jo and John Gow, who have turned 60 acres of disused scrub into what a Sydney Morning Herald columnist described as “one of the wonders of the world.”

When they purchased the land in 1993, the Gows promptly set about re-establishing the native bush and, after nearly 20 years of dedicated planting and nurturing, it is now the flourishing forest that makes such a spectacular setting for the Connells Bay Sculpture Park.

Like the park itself, the Gow’s sculpture collection had modest beginnings. It commenced with the acquisition of a few pieces to enhance their colonial homestead landscape, but gradually expanded turning into what is now their ‘gallery without walls’, a collection of 30 plus permanent site-selected works and temporary site-responsive installations scattered throughout the 20 acres of bush that comprises the sculpture park.

Rather than purchase existing works and impose them on the land, the Gow’s wanted to give New Zealand artists the opportunity to respond to the landscape, and its history, on their own terms. John explains, “The artists we select and invite are given pretty much complete freedom as to what site they would like to work in and what they would like to make. They often prepare a maquette for their idea, along with drawings and a budget.”

The collection now includes works by a roll call of the country’s most respected sculptors including Chris Booth, Graham Bennett, Neil Dawson, Virginia King, Gregor Kregar to name a few from the first half of the alphabet. The most recent addition is an installation by Christchurch artist Darryn George in the gallery’s toilet facilities (based on this work, Darryn has been selected to exhibit in the Palazzo Bembo at the Venice Biennale later this year).

While the site and collection are rather grand, the visitor experience is welcoming and personal. Visitors are collected from the top of the property in a well-travelled Land Rover (the drive is not for the fainthearted) and given a guided tour and personal commentary on each of the works by one or both of the hosts.

The park is an ever-changing work in progress – and one the Gows hope will never be finished. Their interest in taking local art to an international level is not limited to their own property but extends to their support and involvement in other significant projects: the forthcoming Headland, Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition and the International Sculpture Symposium – with speakers from around the globe – at Auckland Art Gallery.





Jo and John Gow, Connells Bay with Neil Dawson's "Other People's Houses".

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