Mates . . . Kevin Murdoch, Andy Wilson and Al Bell work together at The Terraces Art Gallery on Wansbeck St. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

If you call into The Terraces Art Gallery, it may or may not be open.

This is part of the appeal for the three artists who work there – they get to come and go on their own time.

Kevin Murdoch bought the Wansbeck St building in 2016, when it was completely derelict. He saw it as a great chance to “own a piece of Oamaru”.

He has restored it, and has been joined by former teacher Al Bell, and retired carpenter and picture framer Andy Wilson.

The building houses a studio and art gallery downstairs, and a very impressive “man cave” upstairs, complete with full-sized snooker table from the former North Otago Club.

The building may forever be a work in progress: “I’m still doing things,” Murdoch said.

When he asked the others to join him, the deal they made was no set hours.

“We didn’t want to make it a job. We’re just here when we want to be.

“It’s probably not a great way to run a business.”

But The Terraces featured in the recently released Neat Places flyer, and people travelled to visit, he said. So it was doing OK.

“They love that interaction.”

Murdoch used to be a train driver. He runs Oamaru Car Rentals, and is also North Otago Yacht and Power Boat Club commodore.

He said his building has had a “tough life”.

“To revive it again is really cool.”

Bell said he felt lucky to be part of The Terraces.

“Really lucky.

“The idea was he [Kevin] needed someone to motivate him. He’s quite a good artist.”

And so they help each other out, and offer each other advice.

“When you’re an artist, it’s really hard to trust people with constructive criticism.”

Bell’s signature style of etching and embossing, mostly native birds, has become instantly recognisable. He also sells his work in The Artist’s Room gallery in Dunedin.

A collaboration with Dunedin artist Tyler Kennedy Stent last year was hugely successful, with the last piece in the collection selling on the opening night of the exhibition.

Bell was starting to work on pieces for another exhibition with Kennedy Stent.

Having taught primary school children for 36 years, Bell received a Teach NZ scholarship to go to art school for a year, an experience he described as “awesome”.

He returned to teaching for another term, but his heart was no longer in it.

“I was 60-61. I still loved the classroom, but I knew it was time to move on.”

The opportunity at The Terraces came along just at the right time, and he had been surprised by his own success.

“I think it was serendipitous.”

Wilson has always dabbled in art.

The 96-year-old was a cabinet maker before World War2, when he was in the air force. He moved into picture framing in about 1958.

“I loved it. I couldn’t get to work quick enough … just the ability to use my hands.”

He comes and goes from the gallery, and his art is a mixture of watercolours, oils and drawings.

Wilson also restored a ship’s steering wheel, which was broken during a burglary last year, and hand-made a model boat, which adorns the gallery wall.

The men have a regular Friday morning tea with the neighbours from joinery business Grafted and Gallery Picture Framing, and the three could not be happier with their lot.

“I get up every morning, arrive down here, and have a wee ritual. I turn the lights on, I get a coffee, and I put the music on,” Bell said.