Fine arts and campervans seems an unusual pairing, but when it’s done right, the result is most impressive, as Claire Smith found when she met Vallery, a campervan-come-art gallery.
Cheese and crackers. Needle and thread. Pen and paper. Some things are just made to go together. But fine arts and campers? Who knew? New Zealand has some incredible artists tucked away in our rural communities. And many campervan travellers enjoy stopping at off-the-beaten-path art galleries, studios, and museums to appreciate or purchase their unique creations. And now art admirers have the chance to enjoy some of New Zealand’s fantastic artworks on a much more immersive level. ‘Vallery’ is the world’s first art gallery-campervan. She was created as a way to offer travellers the ultimate experience of New Zealand’s Coastal Arts Trail. This unique creation is the result of a collaboration between the three regional councils along the trail – Taranaki, Whanganui, and Manawatū – and campervan rental company, Quirky Campers.
Curator Aimée Ralfini was tasked with the exciting job of commissioning artworks from artists in each of the three regions. “The idea was to bring the Coastal Art Trail to life by creating a bespoke environment full of art that is reflective of the journey and its environment,” says Aimée. With more than 50 artworks by 26 different New Zealand artists, Vallery gives her guests just a taste of the sheer volume of art to be explored and experienced on the trail.
The first step in the process of selecting the artworks was for Aimée to travel the trail herself. “I had an idea in my mind of framing the landscape from within the van, so that when you’re on the trail, the landscape becomes an ever-changing artwork,” she says. “I thought of the van as the inside of an artists’ eye and I saw the artworks as memoirs of the journey,” she explains. “I wanted to leave plenty of space for people to weave their own story. I see the artworks inside as cues to prompt further exploration.”
Wrapped With Whanganui
Vallery’s exterior features art by Whanganui ceramic artist Ivan Vostinar. The van is wrapped in a skin printed from a photograph of a glaze pattern Ivan created especially for Vallery. “Throughout my trip along the trail I imagined what it would look like seeing the van pull up to a scenic location or seeing it in the distance driving through the landscape,” says Aimée. “I began to formulate an idea around making it almost creature-like, I wanted it to appear organic, as if it had grown from nature. This idea was also informed by the massive amount of craft material I saw on the trip. So many artists in these regions work with the earth, be it through ceramic earthenware, textiles, or glass. A lot of the creative expression I saw was very elemental.” Aimée was excited to discover Ivan’s ceramic studio in Whanganui’s Castlecliff beach, and she commissioned him to create the glaze which contains speckles of sand from the beach. “I like that it has an ambiguousness to it,” says Ivan. “It could be the sea, or a piece of greenstone. Each person sees it a little differently.”
Connecting To The Landscape Through Colour
Envisaging an appropriate colour palette for Vallery’s interior was a significant part of Aimée’s focus as she travelled from region to region. “I really wanted to make sure the colours inside reflected the outside, throughout the seasons ,” says Aimée.
“Manawatū landscape artist Vonnie Sterritt’s painting captures the colour palette for the trail perfectly, and her landscape was exactly what I was looking for in the interior of the van,” she says. “We have rust orange from the wildflowers, sheds and farming equipment in the fields; road marking yellow and asphalt grey; salted stone, greens and plasticine blues from the coast, and rich greens and navy from further inland. “At night, when the cabin’s drop-down curtains unravel, an interior horizon line emerges, further immersing the traveller within the landscape after dark. The kitchen cupboards stand out against a backdrop of hills, like a colourful stacked beehive.” The seating squabs around the table also feature Vonnie’s artwork, as do the outdoor chairs.
“Taranaki has so much on offer creatively,” says Aimée. “It was my first stop, and I was particularly impressed by the variety of art on offer, from Grover St Gallery to the North Taranaki Arts Society at The Gables where I discovered Gavin Mulgrave, whose ceramic portrait of Mt Taranaki features in the lightbox above the bed.” Aimée says that one of her favourite discoveries in Taranaki was Pātea. “Pātea has everything; the wild edge of the coast, the mana, the creative heritage, and the old state buildings that are so prevalent on this journey.” The work of Pātea artist Gabrielle Belz struck a chord with Aimée who commissioned two special pieces from her – the arch that frames the end of the bed, and a piece for the ceiling of the van. “I knew her artwork, which depicts the outstretched wings of a seabird and twinkling stars from the region’s sky, would bring that sense of awe and wonder to whoever lay beneath it.”
Having spent time in Whanganui in her youth, Aimée has a special spot in her heart for the region. “Art is always exciting in Whanganui,” she says. “There is something in the air there that makes it a place ripe for creativity.” Aimée says some of the highlights of Whanganui for her were ‘A Gallery’ where she discovered Vallery’s ‘Mona Lisa’ – an exquisite miniature of a cat posed like the Grande Odalisque with an ornate framefell in love with Rick Rudd’s Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics, and Lauren Lysaght’s amazing embroidery which features on the three cushions depicting each of the trail’s regions.
During her time touring the art scene of Manawatū, Aimée was particularly taken by the ceramics of Suzanne McAllen. Suzanne’s work is sprinkled throughout Vallery, inclufing a cluster of ceramic art on the wall as well as the kitchen crockery. Another Manawatū artist of note is Pania Molloy, whose delicate wood-carved feather adorns the support leg for the kitchen table, and as Aimée suggests, “whispers a silent hello, as you step inside Vallery for the first time.” Gracing Vallery’s table and cabin doors is a map design created by artist Locke Pikah, which traces the Coastal Arts Trail route – the perfect way to see where you’ve been, where you are now and where you’re about to go.
The Coastal Arts Trail
Launched in mid-2022, the Coastal Arts Trail is New Zealand’s newest and largest arts tourism experience. The trail offers a self-driving itinerary of museums, art galleries and open studios along the North Island’s west coast between New Plymouth and Palmerston North. The scenic trail encompasses the regions of Taranaki, Whanganui, and the Manawatū. From a surfboard fence in Opunake to delicate glassworks in Whanganui, the variety of art showcased is as diverse as those who live there. The trail comprises around 77 stops, including large galleries like the Govett- Brewster Art Gallery/Len Lye Centre, and privately owned workshops and studios. Find out more at https://coastalartstrail.nz/
Try Vallery For Yourself
Vallery is a self-contained three-berth van with a fixed double bed and a convertible single bed. She comes with all the must-haves for your road trip including campingchairs and table, awning, kitchenware, bedding, and towels if needed, solar power, and even a complimentary bottle of wine. Find out more about booking Vallery at https://www.quirkycampers.com/
Places To Stay
• Whanganui River TOP 10 Holiday Park, 460 Somme Parade.
• Castlecliff Beach (freedom camping). Lower car park between the surf lifesaving club and Duncan Pavilion, upper car park, and beach viewing area.
• Kai lwi Beach Holiday Park, 66 Mowhanau Drive.