Felt-tip artist Alice Cowdrey’s iconic works are slow to complete, which is meditative for the impatient creator. She lives in Ōakura, New Plymouth, with her three children, Jimmy, 10, Hazel, 9, and Freida, 6.

ALICE COWDREY: My ex, Simon, and I moved to Taranaki 10 years ago. We bought a house and two acres about 20 miles south of New Plymouth on the coast.

It is a beautiful place. You can see the mountain and the ocean. We moved here from Nelson because it was really cheap ($270,000). We couldn’t afford to buy in Nelson, and that meant I could stay home with the kids on one income.

READ MORE:
* Amanda Robb, boudoir photographer, helps “terrified” women love their bodies
* Perspex artist Candy Clarke – “Art doesn’t have to be stark”
* Painting sculptor Hannah Jensen moved for love, from Auckland to a small 1950s bach by the sea

We had been to Taranaki twice for the Parihaka Peace Festival, an amazing music festival that no longer exists. Coming for this, we both fell in love with the environment and the wilderness of the coast.

When we separated, I moved to the village where the children go to school in Ōakura. I rented for a year, then realized the rent here was quite expensive, so I thought I should look into buying. It was difficult to get my offers considered.

Eventually, a friend’s parents offered me to sell this house privately. I own it with my parents, who are sheep and beef farmers in the King Country.

The felted rabbit on the living room wall evokes nature and the elements.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

The felted rabbit on the living room wall evokes nature and the elements.

The place is pretty epic, beautiful, and way too big for me alone. There are lots of established trees and a stream along the back line where the kids play.

The house was built in the 80’s, trying to be cutting edge design, quite funky. There are funny skylights everywhere, trying to let the light in, but if they had faced the house the other way it would look better.

The biggest thing I’ve done since purchasing in May of last year was converting the large brick double garage into an art studio.

Cowdrey's cat, Milo, often sits on the bench with her while she creates.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

Cowdrey’s cat, Milo, often sits on the bench with her while she creates.

We lined it with plywood, insulated it, put on a new roof, ripped out the garage door and put in a sliding door and windows. It’s super cool. I am in the process of buying furniture to run workshops.

I run many felting workshops. We’re just across the road from the school, so I’m going to start after-school art classes – more like creative kid-led games. It comes from that moment when I walk into my children’s classes and see that they all have to do the same thing.

We will use different mediums; paint, clay, paper mache, felting.

Cowdrey starts work around 8:30 or 9 p.m. most nights, and sometimes works until 1 a.m., finding she can get into her zone at night without distractions.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

Cowdrey starts work around 8:30 or 9 p.m. most nights, and sometimes works until 1 a.m., finding she can get into her zone at night without distractions.

I do a lot of workshops, I teach for schools, organizations, classes in galleries and I teach at polytech in Whanganui.

I am self-taught with everything. I worked as a journalist and needed a creative outlet. I went to the Ngātīmoti Fair, bought loads of needle felting supplies, went home, explored and invented.

It is a dry felting technique where a barbed needle is used to repeatedly prick the wool. It tangles and compacts the fibers together. It is a time-consuming and repetitive medium.

The spinning wheel belonged to Granny Buelah of Cowdrey, with whom she was close.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

The spinning wheel belonged to Granny Buelah of Cowdrey, with whom she was close.

For me, it’s meditative. Because the process takes so long and I’m naturally impatient, it makes me appreciate how far I’ve come to get something done.

I use all natural materials, but mostly wool, so fibers, fur, feathers, human hair – which gets a mixed response. I use clay and dried flowers, paper mache.

My work is mostly needle felted and 3D, sculptural in nature. And then I integrate knitting and sewing.

The mug is a family heirloom, which Cowdrey says represents his connection to his ancestral Czech roots.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

The mug is a family heirloom, which Cowdrey says represents his connection to his ancestral Czech roots.

My work is a mythical exploration of the subconscious, transformation and nature. And it’s about my ancestral ties, my Czech heritage and things that don’t necessarily exist in this material world.

The things that happen in my dreams are at the heart of my work: it is an embodiment of the unconscious world.

Crows and snakes come up often: the crow is a mystical messenger, and the snake speaks of transformation or change.

Cowdrey holds the Queen of Cups tarot card.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

Cowdrey holds the Queen of Cups tarot card. “I love the tarot symbolism and what it can offer, but I identify with the Queen of Cups in that she’s quite creative, and she’s a mother, a dreamer, and she’s kind and intuitive.”

It is also a documentation of the changes that have happened to me over the past two or three years, including the separation from my longtime partner, the father of the children. We were probably together 15 years, so it’s been a process of disentangling myself from life that didn’t represent my true self.

We have a close co-parenting relationship, so it’s not about neglecting that relationship, but rather getting into myself.

Simon and I share the children; it’s changing and whatever happens. We have dinner together once a week, and we still have vacations together. People think it’s outside the norm to have a good relationship.

Cowdrey's children made the sign when they sold lemons and lemonade on the street.  “Living in a place where everyone knows everyone is safe, nurturing and close.  Someone gave them a $20 bill and didn't want change.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

Cowdrey’s children made the sign when they sold lemons and lemonade on the street. “Living in a place where everyone knows everyone is safe, nurturing and close. Someone gave them a $20 bill and didn’t want change.

It works for us, and the kids seem happy and settled.

I sell my work through exhibitions or word of mouth. People who have seen my work often buy more than one thing. People message me through Instagram. Most of the things I make sell.

Taranaki has a very creative community of talented artists, a wonderful community to be a part of.

VANESSA LAURIE / Stuff

“Migrant Cat Heads Home” represents Cowdrey’s connection to his Czech heritage.

Previous

Birdon America wins $1.187 billion USCG contract

Next

Police end search for site of victim Keith Bennett after no human remains found

Check Also