Fire razes livelihood

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The remains of the Wairoa workshop, destroyed by fire. Photo/Chris Wilson
The remains of the Wairoa workshop, destroyed by fire. Photo/Chris Wilson

Award-winning Wairoa furniture designer Chris Wilson got an early wake-up call of the type nobody wants.

The single-storey building which housed his workshop, at the eastern end of the main street of town, had been razed.

Wairoa firefighters rushed to the scene at about 3.15am on February 4 but with flames up to 15m high there was little they could do to save his business, although they were able to contain it and stop it spreading to neighbouring buildings.

An investigation was under way into the cause of the fire but at this stage it was unknown.

Wilson has made a living from his creativity since his OE days, when he would paint and sell watercolours. He originally thought of himself as a painter - and did still paint and exhibit his work - including producing a calendar featuring his paintings of local landscapes just this year.

He began making furniture in Wellington in the 1980s and shifted to Wairoa for the lifestyle, slower pace and cheaper living costs more than 20 years ago.

He had used the destroyed building, off Marine Parade, as his workshop for the past 17 years.

His one-off high end furniture designs had appeared in many exhibitions, including a piece created from driftwood, entitled Femme Fatale, which was selected for the Creative Hawke's Bay Invitational held at the Hastings City Art Gallery in 2011. In 1999 a driftwood settee earned him the top craft prize at the Hawke's Bay Review.

Wilson was philosophical about the loss of almost all his materials and tools, saying if he wanted to he could make something right now with the timber he had left with the aid of some hand tools and equipment borrowed from friends.

The future was not so certain but "nothing can bring it back".

"As a creative person I have to think of it as the beginning of new opportunities."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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