FROM THE VAULTS: Gordonton artist Chris Smith painted his eye-catching, colourful Wall of Fame depicting life and the locals of Gordonton in 1999. It created much comment and appreciation for at least 10 years, but was painted over when new tenants moved into the building. Annette Taylor talked with him in 2014.
IT ALL JUST sort of happened, Chris Smith says of the Trading Post’s (now the dairy) Wall of Fame in downtown Gordonton.
Actually, it was two walls, the glass frontage, sides and roof of the tearooms, and spilled over into the neighbouring furniture shop and might have grown even more, over time.
The eye-catching, colourful mural that depicted life and the locals of Gordonton was painted by Chris in 1999 and lasted about 10 years; a real-life monument.
“The old hall had been demolished a year before, and I felt it would be good to remember that, it was a huge part of the community. I also wanted to paint some of the local characters and what they got up to. These people shouldn’t be forgotten.”
Tearoom owners Bruce and Cherie Thornton were chuffed at the project. Cherie told the Waikato Times at the time she was honoured an artist of Chris’ calibre wanted to turn his skills to improving the look of the tearooms.
“They gave me total free reign, which was great for an artist. I’d do sketches and stick them to the wall, and they trusted me.”
Originally from Herefordshire, Chris arrived in Gordonton with wife Jenny in 1982. He used to work for Hereford Fine China and, after leaving, continued with his own art, making a range of china native birds, which were sold in the Trading Post. Painting the wall was a thing of joy, he says.
“It was something fun to do, a real change from painting china. I would pop out and do a bit whenever the weather was good.”
He used whatever paint he could get – all up it cost about $500. “I’d buy a few tins of anything on special. Roof paint, water-based, whatever. I’d mix it all together. It was a bit challenging, the bricks were all uneven, but I managed.”
No-one ever graffitied the wall, he says.
“I remember one young guy who looked like he might come back and graffiti it later so I gave him the paint brush and got him to do a bit on the corner. I said ‘that’s your bit.’”
One morning a TV crew from Holland pulled up. “They were off to film rowing at Karapiro and called in for a coffee. They got out their camera and started filming me.”
Chris hid 14 objects in it – “There was a spider, a screw with a frog on it, all sorts of things they had to find before they went inside and got their tea and scones.
“A friend was down in the South Island and someone mentioned the wall, and knew where it was. Word got around, which was pretty impressive.”
Everything depicted on the wall was true, he says, but he gave the truth a bit of a ‘stretch’. “It’s my sense of humour. I painted a sign saying the golf club was down Garfield St and people used to pick me up on that. But in the early days it really was, behind the back of the school, across a swing bridge. That’s what I was told. That’s history and history is all round us.”
The mural was painted over when new tenants moved into the building. The cartoon of a greedy gnome on the tearoom’s window was particularly stubborn to remove, he recalls.
“It took them ages to scratch that off. I was chuffed.”
The Chris Smith Wall of Fame in its glory days.
The Gordonton Express departs the old hall, driven by Leon Geddes. Jean, his wife, holds what was allegedly the fattest cat in the village. Lyndsay, one of the regular drivers, gives directions. Along for the ride are Lex Riddell, Shirley Blank, John Bridgman and Tuku in the back, Roy the mechanic runs alongside. The Kiwi perched precariously on the top depicts Kiwi Experience, which was started in Gordonton by Neil Geddes.
Barry Ruck from the Gordonton Garage races after someone who forgot their change – “he was as honest as the day, with a real dry sense of humour,” says Chris. Heather, below, always gave a helping hand.
One of the local school teachers had a certain reputation –
“When Bruce and Cherie first moved in they bought a milkshake machine, but didn’t know how to use it. So Bruce asked the customer to come round and make it himself. It must have taken a while – so I had Bruce milking the cow for the milk.”
Number 8 Network even featured – at the time we were building our rammed earth house on Woodlands Rd (and living in an old house truck. That’s daughter Iris running along, and, I guess, David digging in the pit!)
Shirley Blank’s feathered friend Wanderer. “That chicken would turn up all around Gordonton.” Husband Peter, below, was around the corner.
On the top of the Trading Post Chris made and painted four large windows, this one shows a witch (no one local!) with Chris and Jenny’s cat, Socks.
The images may be gone but the memories will never fade Chris, many thanks from all in Gordonton!