Art for every garden: the Nelson family who found a creative outlet in steel

Brendon and Jane Harley are passionate kiwi gardeners with a creative eye and flair for all things metal. Their shared enthusiasm for art, landscaping, and creating metal artworks for their own Nelson garden, quickly evolved into Grounded Art NZ – where you will find them designing and creating high quality and original metal art and sculpture for Aotearoa homes and gardens.

What do you make?
We make metal art and sculpture for New Zealand homes and gardens – all our artwork is designed and crafted by the two of us, using sustainable New Zealand materials.

How did you get into your craft?
By accident – as a lot of creatives do! We have a really big garden and have always enjoyed creating metal artworks for our own property. Before long people began asking if we would sell any of our treasures and it’s really just taken off from there. Our private collection is now smaller than ever now but we get such a buzz seeing our work heading off into homes and gardens all over New Zealand and more recently to international locations too.



Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Brendon is a trained sheet metal engineer with 25 years’ experience – he specialises in high-end architectural stainless steel and finishings, and is somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to everything he makes. Brendon brings precision and technical skill to the table and is definitely the family talent when it comes to working out what can and can’t be done with metal. Jane works as an environmental planning consultant but comes from a very arty family so she is chief sketcher, designer and photographer and is forever throwing ideas and visions around – it’s not uncommon for these to occur (and be shared!) in the middle of the night! We both work full time in our ‘less-creative’ roles and are very keen gardeners – we live on several acres, with animals and kids so needless to say our days, nights and weekends are very full! Brendon has taught Jane and 16 year old son Will to weld so we all get stuck in and involved with everything that we make. We all have our strengths and logical roles in the creation of our work but we all enjoy learning new skills and sharing the load to help keep Grounded Art momentum going and evolving.

Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
Corten Steel is our absolute favourite metal to work with – the rust takes on a life and dimension all of its own, each sculpture slightly different from the last. We also love the crisp clean precise cut that we achieve by laser cutting our designs – cutting with a laser maintains the integrity of the metal and ensures the precision and high quality finish that we strive for in every one of our art works. We love that every design has come from our own vision and processes and we work hard to ensure our work is always of high quality and of our own, unique design and style.

Tell us about some of the techniques/processes involved in producing one of your pieces:
Our favourite process in our art is the formation of the patina (rust) of our Corten work – traditionally rust implies corrosion and decay but Corten steel is a high-strength weathering steel that is corrosion resistant. When exposed to the elements a stunning patina forms on the steel – this protects the steel from acidic environments and corrosion and it looks fantastic forever! The very first rainfall will make the biggest impact and most noticeable and exciting change to the steel’s appearance. We always consider it a win if we can time work to be completed and go outdoors just before a decent rainfall which will get our patinas going like nothing else – such a fantastic feeling and we get to watch the steel transform and develop before our eyes. We also offer our work as fresh newly made Corten sculptures (clean steel) so that our customers can also get to enjoy this process too – watching the patina develop and evolve is a very cool part of our art.


What inspires you?
Much of what we create is a reflection of our beautiful surroundings and cultural influences here in New Zealand. We are not trying to replicate or replace anything in nature – we aim to reflect the beauty and diversity found in New Zealand’s natural environment and enhance this with our work. We love the effects of light and shade and a lot of our works throws fantastic shadows and doubles the presence of the art.

Native New Zealand flora enjoyed on Brendon’s outdoor hunting adventures, and Jane’s Ngai Tahu roots have been big influences in what we’ve created so far. Our designs’ names also embrace a very native New Zealand vibe with Korokio, Tohu, Fish hook, Tribal, Nikau, Arrow, Leaf and Reflection – we love having both striking and bold contemporary designs that make a statement as well as more subtle, elegant and rustic designs, including bulrushes and seedpods that nestle into the landscape. There’s something for everyone and for every style of home and garden.



Is there a philosophy behind your work?
Our main philosophy with Grounded Art is to have fun and enjoy this journey together. We stumbled into this arty adventure almost by accident and we maintain that as long as we are all enjoying what we do and the buzz is still there then we’ll continue to do it.

We both work full time in our planning and engineering roles, so Grounded Art has been our creative outlet as well as great family together time. We have been part of some amazing gallery spaces and met some wonderful people with this journey – this is something that will forever be part of our life experience. As long as we are still loving what we make and our customers still love buying what we make then we’ll keep making it!

Describe your creative process:
New ideas and designs tend to pop into our heads any time night or day – once sketched up these then get refined and improved (and often voted on) during family gatherings and it all grows from there. Jane’s arty family have been instrumental in helping us move our work forward from ideas to creations as they really support and understand what we do and why we are doing it so we are very lucky to have such a great collaborative pool of creative minds and opinions!

Trial and error plays a big part in our initial processes too – great ideas don’t always result in cool art straight away so we will refine, remake and go back to the drawing board until we get exactly what we’re after. So far it’s been all about metal – we use other natural materials such as wood and stone for display purposes but metal is what we know and what we understand – and it is the look we are drawn to – so our creative processes all revolve around making metal look its best and punch above its weight in the art scene.

We predominantly use Corten steel and mild steel for all our rusty work and Aluminium for our shiny works. Stainless steel work is likely to feature soon too as that is what Brendon specialises in – so watch this space!



Describe your workspace:
Big, noisy and full of metal! Brendon’s ‘man-shed’ has slowly been taken over by the whole family with all of our Grounded Art roles – it’s been the perfect space to get creative in and spread out all the materials and machinery that we use. Jane’s office above the shed is also becoming somewhat of a gallery space containing some of her favourite art from around New Zealand and it is a great space to display and photograph our work when it’s ready.

Your favourite feedback from a customer:
We absolutely love hearing from our customers and often receive emails and photos of our work nestling into its new surroundings. It’s always such a delight to receive images of something we’ve produced in its new home. A lot of our work is also purchased as gifts so we often hear from the surprised recipients who just love what they have received! This feedback and connection with our customers is large part of why we do what we do.

What are you currently listening to?
Surprisingly not ‘heavy metal’! 🙂 Our shed has a permanent link to our Spotify playlists so we have some pretty snazzy beats going on in there – depending on the mood and the project but most of it is either motivational and upbeat or ‘old-school-take-you-back-to-the-day’ music. With machinery going a lot of the time the volume control gets quite the workout!


Who is your hero/heroine? Why?
Brendon’s mum, Anne, is our heroine and although she is no longer with us she continues to influence our everyday lives and inspire us in all that we do. Anne was one of the most loving, generous and hardworking women you could ever meet and her fun-loving spirit reminds us to laugh, enjoy the journey, crank up the music just a little louder and to dance like no one is watching (especially when they are!). We see a lot of Anne’s traits and strengths in our kids which is just awesome – she would have loved this Grounded Art adventure for sure.

A favourite quote:
“To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” quote from Audrey Hepburn – we also put our own spin on this quote too which is “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow and to put art in that garden is to believe is a brighter today”! This is definitely something that rings true with us and something we seem to have in common with our customers which is very cool.

Tell us about your pets:
We are animal lovers and as we live on a few acres we’ve always maintained somewhat of a menagerie here – having had peacocks, goats, cows, sheep, chickens, pigs, rabbits, pheasants, quail, horses and bees. Now that our kids are bigger, and our days so busy, our current animal family is somewhat smaller. Our two dogs Tikka and Ella are our workshop helpers, they are never far away from the action and often a large source of amusement in the workshop! We also have a Kaimanawa horse called Kaia.


What would your advice be for those starting out in a crafty business?
We all get caught up with day to day life and working flat out to pay the bills that so many creative minds these days rarely get the time or opportunity to be creative. Our advice would be to do what you enjoy, dabble and play, sneak whatever time you can to be creative and have no expectations of where it will take you – just enjoy. Being creative has been an awesome outlet for us and something we’ve been able to do together as a family.

What was the last handmade item you bought and what attracted you to it?
We love homemade, natural soaps. Every market we attend we stock up on beautiful soaps – Felt is full of fantastic natural soaps and we are determined to try them all!

What’s in store for the rest of 2018?
Over the next few months we are looking forward to being part of several fundraising art exhibitions for some wonderful New Zealand charity organisations and getting ready for our big event of the year which is Garden Marlborough in Blenheim in early November.



Prize draw and special offer!

Brendon and Jane have generously offered a gorgeous prize of a single Grounded Art NZ swivel and shine (see below) in a design of winner’s choice, valued at $75! These stunning hanging aluminium sculptures are available in eight designs and are designed to be suspended either singly, or you can link up to three together – all on independent swivels so they can dance and spin and add movement and interest to your garden.

If you would like to be in to win this stylish prize, let us know in the comments section what you enjoyed reading about Brendon and Jane’s story and their beautiful creations. The draw closes at 5pm on Monday 17 September and is open to New Zealand residents only.

As if that wasn’t enough, you can also get a 10% discount and free New Zealand wide shipping from Grounded Art NZ’s Felt shop for the duration of their Meet the Maker fortnight! To get this great discount make sure you enter the code GANZ10 in the voucher code field at step 4 of checkout. Thanks so much, Brendon and Jane!


22 thoughts on “Art for every garden: the Nelson family who found a creative outlet in steel

  1. I love your designs and the story behind what inspires you especially your Ngai Tahu connection as my family has that too from my Great Grandmother.
    I would love to win this prize for my 81 year old mum so she could have it in her garden in her retirement Village 🙂

  2. ‘to have fun and enjoy this journey together’ really struck me as a fabulous philosophy! I love that strong bond and working to strengths. Beautiful work!

  3. Keep it simple, strong and flowing, whanu first, take in your soundings. It all in front of our eyes, designs to inspire you, fine lines,feel the energy around you. Aronui

  4. Wow guys!
    I was inspired and energised just reading about your brilliant family life and the beautiful pieces that culminate from that.
    Your work is amazing and I think some of your pieces would look brilliant inside as wall art, as well as in the garden.

  5. I love the fact this wonderful art started by accident and that pieces of New Zealand are being shared
    both locally and internationally. Brendon and Janes’ passion truly shows in their amazing work. Lovely that excitement comes with rain 🙂

  6. Wow! Brendon and Jane truely create beautiful pieces of garden art. I loved reading about their philosophy on life and how Brendon’s mum Anne inspires them in so many ways.

  7. I loved their fav quote. I love my garden too, it’s my relaxing, doing, dreaming space when I’m not working in my creative studio. I also loved reading about Brendon’s mum Anne and how she’s still part of their creative process. We lost both our dad’s this year, I feel close to my dad when I’m out in the garden planting and scheming the next garden creation.

  8. I enjoyed reading about the inspiration behind their art, as that is what brings it to life for me. The shadows created are very cool, adding not only a sculptural element but an element that plays against the light as well. I also appreciated the bit of advice – sneaking time for creativity and not having expectations of where it will take you – good reminder to do it for the love of doing it. An inspirational family venture! Thanks for creating and sharing.

  9. I loved reading about how rain helps to create the beautiful patinas on your work! Gorgeous pieces enhanced by Mother Nature! Keep up the good work.

  10. Your work is really beautiful. I love the shadows cast as well. Great to see this family working together, being creative and loving it!

  11. Wow, beautiful. I love that the whole family is involved and all have a part to play. Love the shadows cast by these lovely sculptures and would love one for our new garden.

  12. I love it how Brendon and Jane were already making sculptures for themselves, and have managed to turn a passion into their income. Every creative person’s dream 🙂

Comments are closed.