Jane and Mario Downes of Ironweed produce handmade Kiwiana garden art from recycled steel in their home workshop in beautiful Little River on Banks Peninsula. Jane is a qualified designer and sculptor and Mario is a certified welder. Together they have combined their respective skills to produce a range of designs influenced by their Kiwi colonial backgrounds.
What do you make?
We produce site specific sculptures, Kiwiana garden art, bespoke gates and signs from recycled steel in our home workshop up a secluded valley in Little River on Banks Peninsula. We are lucky to be able sell our smaller pieces from home due to the internet (and Felt!) and our village post office.
Our larger works appear nationwide in major sculpture exhibitions giving us the opportunity to travel up and down the country in our camper we call ‘The Bach’.
How did you get into your craft?
I was working as an interior designer when the recession hit. I started to make things from the scrap generated from my husband Mario’s engineering business. Demand quickly grew, giving me the opportunity to become the full time sculptor/designer I had always wanted to be, and Mario the chance to express his creative side.
Do you have formal training or qualifications in your craft?
Yes, I have a Bachelor of Design, majoring in sculpture and Mario is a certified welder.
Your favourite materials, tools and processes?
We both love the properties of steel, enabling our sculptures to be constructed rather than carved, and are always on the hunt for interesting recycled steel. Our work is predominantly made from 1mm sheet which is then folded. (Something between 2D and 3D which we like to call ‘2 1/2D’!)
My favourite tool is the plasma cutter which enable me to draw with steel. Mario loves all tools – the more the better and is especially good at developing tools and processes to get the best out of the materials.
What inspires you?
Patterns in nature and manmade objects inspire us, along with our Kiwi colonial backgrounds. We love to make ephemeral objects from such an enduring material as steel, hence the name ironweed.
Is there a philosophy behind your work?
We love to use scrap and discarded materials to make valued, beautiful items. The resulting objects become a celebration of heart and mind.
Describe your workspace:
We have a large workshop full of discarded items ready to be given a new life, and tools and equipment ready to be put to a new use
Five words that describe your mind:
Quirky, imaginative, unconventional, questioning, resolving.
Your favourite feedback from a customer: “Just looking at it makes me feel happy.”
What else are you doing:
My annual group exhibition called ‘The Usual Suspects’ opened at the Little River Gallery on 30 November and runs until 24 December.
Our recent large-scale sculptural installations include: 7 Days currently at the Sculpture in the Gardens at the Auckland Botanic Gardens and Shapeshifter at the Dowse Art Museum, Lower Hutt, coming up in February 2014.
What are your future plans:
To design a range of sculptural objects for the home and to develop a sculpture park on our seven acre bush block.
Do you have any pets?
We’ve almost had a zoo in the past but have cut down and our favourites are now our manx cats – and they know it!
What was the last handmade item you bought?
A necklace – jewellery is wearable sculpture after all!
Jane and Mario have also kindly offered to give one lucky Felt blog reader a fifty dollar voucher to be redeemed at their Felt shop. To be in to win this excellent Christmas prize, leave a comment below telling us what inspires you about Jane and Mario’s art and story. The draw will be made on Monday 16 December and is open to New Zealand residents only.