A Willowbridge woman invented a new artform ‘‘by mistake, really’’.
Michelle Aplin has become a sculptor using the unlikely medium of chicken wire. It began last year when she and her husband Jason were fencing paddocks in Central Otago.
‘‘I got bored and made a goat,’’ she said, as if it was completely logical.
That life-sized goat now sits in her ‘‘shabby chic workshop gallery’’ at Willowbridge, just east of Waimate. It has plenty of company — a cat inspecting the array of cards on the workbench, a rooster looking out the window, and a display of photographs of Aplin’s previous works that can be ordered by new admirers.
The Aplins have converted part of their 1.8ha block into a sculpture garden that is open to the public from 10am to 3pm each Friday to Sunday.
As visitors walk through the front gate, chicken wire people and animals appear on the lawns and incorporated into the landscape.
A full-sized horse is jumping a rail between heritage roses, a little boy chases a goose on his tricycle, and a sheep dog cocks his leg on the hedge.
A wallaby with a joey in its pouch acknowledges Waimate’s wildlife, deer stand serenely under a tree, monkeys swing from branches, and a flamingo adds another exotic touch.
Aplin likes the garden sculptures to suit the house, one of several in Willowbridge built just after World War 1 under the Workers’ Act. Hence the boy on the trike wearing knickerbockers and a cap.
The old Willowbridge railway hut has been placed in the garden and is occupied by a man with a suitcase, reading while he awaits his train.
Aplin wants to create King Kong climbing up the water tank stand, and introduce animals from the circus that toured the South Island between the wars.
Life in rural South Canterbury is a far cry from Aplin’s past. She was a registered nurse ‘‘for many years’’, doing shiftwork in London and then in Auckland after the family came to New Zealand 10 years ago.
They have been in Willowbridge for a year, tending the old roses and other plantings and raising angora goats that each have names.
Aplin said it takes ‘‘a few weeks, on and off’’ to complete a large sculpture. She loves seeing ‘‘a square bit of wire’’ transformed into a shape portraying an animal or person from every angle.
She studies the animal’s muscles, bone structure and anatomy, then works out the scale needed to produce the sculpture.
It’s hard on her hands, which often get stabbed by the wire ends, but she has found gloves get in the way.
Aplin has no art training, although she enjoyed the subject at school.
Her flair with layering and shaping galvanised wire has attracted commissions from throughout New Zealand.
‘‘I’ve got several months’ worth. I’m working seven days a week to get them done for Christmas.’’