Interview with jeweller, costume designer and recently elected president of the Queenstown Art Society, Kay Turner.
Kay Turner is a local creative maker with a huge amount of energy and drive to immerse herself in collaborations and community engagement, alongside her own practice. I asked her a few questions about her background as a practitioner and her current projects.
Louise Garrett, arts and cultural coordinator
LG: You describe yourself as a ‘maker of all things’, which includes your work as a jeweller, pattern maker and costume designer for theatre. Can you tell me how you started on your pathway as a creative practitioner?
KT: It was a total surprise to me when I took senior art at school that I was considered talented - I just made stuff. My mother was an extremely competent seamstress, with the most stunning handwriting and my father made everything from tailored jackets to drawer handles and I spent many a night under the bed clothes with my painting set. I was just comfortable doing anything creative - I thought that was normal. Maths and spelling on the other hand was extremely abnormal so after a bad 7th form maths class I left school forging my parents' signatures. Annoyed, my father enrolled me at the NZ College of Fashion Design. I was enthralled at being able to create a3D form from a flat piece of paper and loved working with textiles. I am still happiest with a pile of cloth beside me. When the industry pressures got way too much I looked for a way out and discovered a new passion working in an art gallery in Queenstown where Brian Adam held street jewellery making classes and I was hooked. Weirdly' whilst there was no supermarket in Queenstown, there was a 5 student jewellery school in Gorge Road and I started there with my now great mentor and friend Colin Foster. Queenstown was, as it is still, full of creatives in all areas of the Arts - I met Janelle Aston an award winning set designer and Margaret O'Hanlon who wrote original musical theatre amongst a myriad of other things. It was exciting working with these women who took anything and everything on. We built miners' huts up at Skyline and Central Park in the Athanaeum Hall and it has never stopped. I still run from one project to another and still never consider that it can't be done.
LG: What are some of the key inspirations for your work? What motivates your creative enquiries and how would you describe your ideal conditions for making new work?
KT: I still and always will rise to a challenge. I am strongly drawn to texture and form so living here is a constant inspiration - not a day goes by without an idea presenting itself or the need to capture something I have seen. I squirrel all the ideas away but often need a reason and a deadline to create work. When I was invited to join Hullabaloo Art Space Gallery in Cromwell I was in my element - making and selling my work was a new concept and I will be forever grateful for those members showing me what was possible.
LG: Tell me about some of the creative organisations you have worked with. What are some of the ingredients for successful collaborations?
KT: My first brilliant collaboration was with Jane Daniels design. Jane is a very talented fashion designer with a huge passion for her craft. We all worked closely as a creative team -that’s when I learnt that respect is the true gift you bring and receive in any worthwhile collaboration. I worked for a number of years for Whakatipu High School as Arts Coordinator along with Whirlwind Productions costuming rock and roll theatre and Hullabaloo Art Space - all wonderfully successful organisations that run on the same ethics of respect, team work and creative thinking.
LG: You have recently taken on the role of president of the Queenstown Art Society. What is your vision for the future of this organisation and the community of artists and makers it supports?
KT: QAS is at a turning point and I can see a chance to reimagine its future. I have always held a romantic notion of an inclusive artistic community sitting around gathering ideas and momentum and I think we can be that. We need to be accountable to our mission statement and show commitment to our community to gain respect and mana for the arts. I would like to find art-based solutions to many of the issues that face Queenstown and make art an expected part of the everyday fabric here.
LG: As part of your work with Frankton Library, you have become involved with the MILK Bottle People project, running workshops at the library and Te Atamira in which participants create a personal totem from recycled bottles, papier-mâché and paint to celebrate stories of migration to the Whakatipu region. Can you say something about the motivation behind the project and tell us what participants should expect from the workshops?
KT: Queenstown is a migrant community - most of us come from somewhere else. Frankton Library has a diverse staff mix which creates a dynamic team. Natasya, a young woman from Malaysia, started with us and soon captured a place in my heart as a courageous creative personality. She was eager to talk about creative projects and I shared one that I had come across during lockdown. She saw a link in this project to her work in the migrant community and we brainstormed it into what it is today. Having had our first workshop I can see huge value in this project - within 10 minutes there was sharing of stories anda joy in being able to ’talk’ in a visual way. Messy hands, new skills, open hearts, acceptance, friendship, kinship, a voice and lots of laughter is what I hope you find in our workshops. The exhibition will have its own set of experiences that are yet to reveal themselves.