As a result of the boom of the dairy industry, rural New Zealand is experiencing an unusual (we ARE the land of sheep after all!) surplus in big, beamy, iron clad woolsheds. What used to be a humming centre of farm activity, the humble kiwi woolshed is now left sadly abandoned or in many cases – demolished. So specific are their design that they generally don’t justify the money needed to convert into something else functional….that is unless you are a country born print-maker with some vision and elbow grease!
Young motivated artist meet abandoned Mid Canterbury woolshed – let love ensue.
Libby Baxter has been two things since birth. A country girl and a creative. In 2001, in her last year of high school she achieved the top result in printmaking for the country and scholarship level in photography. She then headed off to Massey University in Wellington where she entered a Bachelor of Design majoring in Interior Architecture. But it was during her final year of study that she finally decided what she wanted to spend her scholarship money on – it was a very weighty etching press. This got shipped home to her parents property in Waiau, North Canterbury where she promptly followed it as soon as she had completed her degree. There she set about converting an old, unused building into her first studio –The Shed.
Not feeling at all inclined to take the bait of the corporate design world that potentially awaited her, she instead took up full time work on the farm and sunk her teeth into experimenting with her press, relishing the return to making again.
Travel was then next on the list for the young artist and she set off, criss-crossing the globe and indulging her love of photography. The images she caught across no less than 4 continents provided her with endless material to use and inspire her work in the following years.
In 2010 her farming boyfriend, George Baxter cleverly threw out the best bait of all for Libby to move with him to his family farm outside of Ashburton, Mid Canterbury. With commissions now flowing in and her work being displayed in various galleries and a Christchurch store, she would need a new studio. He delivered this in the bulk form of a huge, now unneeded woolshed.
Woolsheds are reliably pretty smelly things. However this shed had a huge advantage in the fact that the main area had been totally re floored…and then never again used. What stood between Libby and a fresh clean studio space was the erection of a wall, some serious sanding action to rid the place of bird poo and lashing after lashing of white paint. In true, Libby “can-do” style she took to the job herself and The Shed Mk II emerged!
The result is a special space that walks the line between functional art studio and reminders of the buildings original workhorse past. She has put to use old nail boxes as shelving and painted pallets as a central work station. The antler chandeliers made by George for their 2013 wedding now bridge the stark white walls and the old tin roofing. Aside from her press, the total pride and joy of the space is her industrial strength diesel heater that can blast a Canterbury winter chill out of the room in minutes.
Libby is still very much the farmer, having come to meet me straight from the paddock where she had been installing troughs for their progressing conversion to dairy. Country life and the natural landscape has always rung clear and strong through her work and with the glossy white Southern Alps flashing through the macrocarpa trees at The Shed, she couldn’t have found a better spot to continue to develop and make. Commissions for personal works around weddings and families have increased and are something she relishes. While her fascination with layering, transfers, etching and embossing constantly lead her to new results and currently on an obsessive hunt for an old letterpress.
Create create create.All photography by Julia Atkinson for Studio Home
WHAT I LEARNT FROM LIBBY:
Do it your way and do it yourself.