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From woolshed to creative space

From woolshed to creative space
The woolshed has been lined, painted and made into a comfortable space for art classes, but still retains its rustic charm. Photo: Claire Inkson

A North Canterbury woolshed built over 100 years ago has a new lease of life as an art studio.

Children and adults from all over North Canterbury are coming through its doors to brush up on their art skills under the skilled eye of artist Corina Hazlett.

Hazlett and husband Jim bought the property in 2013.

The couple developed the park-like gardens and renovated the homestead initially built as a farm cottage in 1882.

"This property had a woolshed, and I thought I could convert that and have a space not in the house.

"I started with just one or two adult classes and one children's after-school class.

"It just grew from there, and now I have around eight classes a week and have a massive waiting list," Hazlett says.

The wool shed is filled with art works by Hazlett and her students. Photo: Claire Inkson.

The woolshed retains much of its rustic charm despite being lined, painted and insulated, and with a heat pump to keep students warm.

"It's an old woolshed, so it's still got that wool smell.

"It's even  got possums, and I don't hide any of that.

"We even had a possum come through the roof during a teenager's class."

Situated in Balcairn, the woolshed is surrounded by farmland, which Hazlett said adds to the appeal for students.

"I've been so close to hiring something more accessible in town, but people love coming out to the country.

"People are fascinated with the view and seeing sheep and cattle running around.

"I take that for granted, coming from a farm."

With the front of the building converted to a studio, the back is still a working woolshed with the original stands.

"I often take the kids out the back and show them what it looks like, where they shear the sheep and where they go out.

"It's giving them an understanding, and I love that as well."

1. The back of the woolshed still has the original stands and pens, and Hazlett often takes students through to show them how a woolshed works. Photo: Claire Inkson

Hazlett says that while the woolshed has been repurposed, its new life as a studio means it is a piece of history being preserved.

"If we can use it, it's kind of being looked after; otherwise, the whole thing would probably fall down."

Hazlett has her roots firmly in the country, having grown up on a sheep and beef farm in Omihi.

She gravitated towards art after following in her Mother, Glenys Crofts's footsteps, who also painted.

A passion turned into a career when Hazlett and her husband Jim were farming in Waiau.

She was looking for a way to earn extra income while still being available for the couple's three children, who were then in primary school.

Since then, her art has been showcased in exhibitions around the country.

In addition to her standard art classes, she has worked with the Department of Corrections, teaching art in prisons and running art therapy classes for children.

"What I love about children is that they haven't been educated into thinking something they are creating is wrong. They just think everything is fabulous.

"I love that for children with disabilities or have gone through trauma, it gives them a safe voice, and so they can draw from their subconscious and can paint what they are feeling."

Hazlett says that while some people feel nervous about picking up a brush and learning to create art, there is no 'wrong' way to paint, and it's important to relax and enjoy the process and not be too critical of your work.

'It's up to me to put people at ease, to help people put the fun in it, and not to be judgemental about their work.

"We can all be critical of ourselves, and I don't think you ever grow out of that.

"The best thing about art is that it's subjective and puts everyone on a level playing field.

"You don't need to be sporty or academic. Anyone can create art."

Hazlett's works tend to be abstract, with what she calls a touch of realism and are colourful and bold.

"I love colour; that's probably why I've gone down the acrylic route instead of watercolour or oil.

"I like the quick dry of acrylics, and I like to mix mediums up."

Hazlett's husband, Jim, who owns JEH Grazing and Livestock, supports her work but does not share her passion for creating art.

"We had a family paint and sip over lockdown. It was so much fun, but that's the only time he has ever picked up a paintbrush. He's not that creative."

"His business is ticking over and growing; he's really busy with that."

By Claire Inkson