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Run to the Bank

26 Jul 2019
Annie Pokel heads to Taranaki, let's see what gold she’s found

Remote has advantages

Living in a small town along a highway suggests that the usual gallery essentials - foot traffic, exposure - could be scarily absent. Patea is home to just under 1,200 residents, but you could also see it as brimming with the possibility to try things out, to be entrepreneurial, to follow your dreams, and just as importantly, to make a valid contribution to your local community. 

Lots of creatives work freelance or run their own businesses from the (relative) comfort of their own home. And while working remotely has a lot of advantages, you also miss out on the coffee-runs with colleagues, the good ol’ water cooler banter and the creative input of others. So, combining your creative work and daily to do list with access to great coffee is always a good idea in my books. Add in a gallery space to not only show your own work but to collaborate with other artists and support the growth of a creative community and you could have a pretty ingenious concept it would seem. When I first heard of what was happening in Patea I was certainly curious to find out more.   

Honouring history and  heritage

Printmaker Michaela Stoneman and her husband Kevin Murrow opened The Bank Room in the front room of their house in Patea, South Taranaki in April last year. This kauri-clad Victorian single-storey villa, built in 1874, happens to be a former BNZ bank building that had also been used for printing, so the couple used its backstory as inspiration for both its name and its further use.  

“The (front) room had housed a family letterpress business called Clarksons Printers, run by Archie Clarkson, for close to fifty years. We inherited layers of ink on the floors, scribblings on the walls and an archive of every job printed during the 1970s, stuck on a wire.” 

After five months of renovations, The Bank Room opened with many of the Clarkson family attending, happy with how their former family home had been transformed and found a new and yet reminiscing purpose as a gallery run by a print-maker.

Planet comes to Patea 

Having roasted and distributed his own brand, Devils Cup Coffee, from the rear of the building for a good 15 years, setting up a cafe and shop to compliment his mail-order service was a great next step for Kevin.   

We all are aware of the connective power of coffee so it’s not that shocking that Kevin’s roasting talents landed Patea in Lonely Planet’s Global Coffee Guide. It was fascinating to learn that all of the Devils Cup mail orders are delivered with a mini-zine (designed and made in-house, obviously), featuring the guest artist of the month, taking their work all across the country. 

Image courtesy of MB Stoneman and Erin McNamara.

Home sweet home

Having worked as the Arts Coordinator for the South Taranaki District Council for several years, Michaela has a well-established network of artists and creatives around her, which not only inspires her own making but also fed into her courage to take the plunge and open The Bank Room. It was important to both her and Kevin to share their creative passions with their elected home-town - and at their home. The history of their building and the receipt of its transformation is another sweet reminder of what a difference a creative mindset makes to the community.

Image courtesy of MB Stoneman and Erin McNamara.

Passion for print

Michaela says she’s always been interested in print-making. “I'm attracted to the history, traditions, tools, and mark-making language, the tactile relationship between ink and paper, in multiplicity, randomness and endless possibilities. It is a process with wide scope and so many possibilities for learning and exploring ideas”

Having grown up in the Taranaki, Michaela found the region the perfect place to further develop her practice. She studied Fine Arts at Taranaki Polytech and she drew a lot of valuable inspiration and guidance from the many artists living and working in near-by Whanganui:

 “I was able to learn from many highly experienced printmakers - including Marty Vreede, Rodney Fumpston, Alexis Neal, Julia Ellery, Dianne Fogwell and Jason Grieg - at intensive summer schools organised by Print Council Aotearoa New Zealand. Instantly hooked on the process and technique, Michaela saved up and was able to buy a large etching press made by Manuka Machines in Christchurch, and went on to set up a shared studio space with fellow artist Beck White.

Image courtesy of MB Stoneman and Erin McNamara.

Playing with pieces

Prior to opening the gallery, Michaela sat down and made a list of the people she knew and wanted to exhibit at The Bank Room - the first exhibition schedule was born. With a monthly turn over of guest artists, Michaela is able to present and juxtapose her own pieces with works from a variety of genres - giving a continuous stream of inspiration both for the artist herself and the visitors to the gallery.

It’s not only the variety of the art, but also that of the artists’ backgrounds which makes The Bank Room so interesting to visit. With artists like Elise Bishop, a ceramicist from Great Barrier Island, and Georgina Young, embroiderer and weaver from Dunedin, Patea does not seem so small anymore but rather well connected to the regional arts centres of Aotearoa. 

Dreams to come 

Future plans include establishing a letterpress workshop in the shed behind the building: Michaela dreams of books, posters, record covers and “other inky goodness” produced on her most recent addition to the family, a large editioning cylinder letterpress machine. 

Image courtesy of MB Stoneman and Erin McNamara.

With that coffee machine tirelessly working away, filling the room with delicious aromas, I find it hard to picture a small gallery space more inviting than this sunlit room with creaky floors telling its stories past.. So, next time you’re in the Taranaki, take in some art off the beaten track and stop along the highway and treat yourself to some great coffee and art - your eyes and taste buds will thank you. 

Image courtesy of MB Stoneman and Erin McNamara.

The Bank Room is located at 44 Bedford Street, Patea, and open Tuesday to Friday, from 10am to 2pm.