"Exciting and daunting" is how Tony Hartevelt describes a painstaking preservation project involving the relocation of two towering, historically important beehive kilns made by acclaimed potter Mirek Smišek.

The kilns, located in Te Horo, are in direct line of the Peka Peka to Ōtaki Expressway construction so are being moved about 20m to the eastern side where they will be reinstated.

The kilns are being deconstructed brick by brick, from the top down, before they are moved to new foundations and built up again.

The delicate project, which started on Wednesday, is being spearheaded by the NZ Transport Agency, expressway contractor Fletcher Construction, with support from various quarters especially the Mirek Smišek Ceramic Arts Trust.

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"It's an incredibly complex and delicate exercise," said Hartevelt, a spokesman for the trust.

"They are extremely fragile structures.

"They've been used thousands of times, heated to a high degree then cooled down again umpteen times.

"That would do things to the innate strength of the bricks and the whole structure.

"It's very daunting and I've got my fingers crossed."

Tony Hartevelt, Susie White, John Draper from the Mirek Smišek Arts Trust with one of the bricks from the kilns.
Tony Hartevelt, Susie White, John Draper from the Mirek Smišek Arts Trust with one of the bricks from the kilns.

Moreover the trust is keen to create an arts centre around the kilns which Hartevelt said was "going to be a real challenge".

"We're still in the planning stages figuring out whether we can operate something viable around the kilns because ongoing cashflow will be needed to maintain and secure the site.

"Our vision is to do that through a centre for the applied arts so it will be combination of a museum, something to showcase Mirek Smišek and other applied artists' work, and run a working pottery so people can see the sorts of things that were produced.

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"That's our idea, that's our vision, we have to work out if that will stack up, because it can't be done without both capital investment and operating cashflow.

"At the moment we don't know what that is and we're working through a business case and discussions with council and NZ Transport Agency who control the asset, and who can influence what we end up setting up."

Pottery by Mirek Smišek.
Pottery by Mirek Smišek.

Hartevelt said the kilns were a "unique and historic community asset".

"We didn't want to see them abandoned.

"We thought there was something there for future generations and if we could build something around it that kept the whole thing ticking over and looked after, then it was worth having a go."

The two beehive kilns, built and used over a 40-year period by Smišek, measure about 2.5m high and 2m in diameter, and are believed to be made from 4000 second-hand bricks brought over from the Nelson area, Golden Bay and Tākaka.

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While they are not registered on the New Zealand Heritage list, the kilns have significant value as the only known beehive kilns in New Zealand.

"Our work is only possible because of the relationship we have with local communities, so our projects always try to include community hopes and aspirations," NZ Transport Agency director of regional relationships Emma Speight said.

"We're absolutely thrilled to help ensure that this historic piece of Kiwi history is admired for generations to come.

"Having the support of the community, in particular the Mirek Smišek Ceramic Arts Trust, has been a huge help in reaching this stage of the project.

"Preservation of the kilns is one of the PP2Ō project's consent conditions, and the team knows how important and challenging the job will be."

Each kiln is expected to take one week to deconstruct with the rebuild expected to take another three weeks.

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About Mirek Smišek

Internationally acclaimed New Zealand potter Mirek Smišek.
Internationally acclaimed New Zealand potter Mirek Smišek.

Smišek arrived in New Zealand in 1951 as a refugee from Czechoslovakia.

He first settled in Nelson, before moving to a Te Horo property east of State Highway 1.

He was New Zealand's first fulltime studio potter, and in 1990 was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for services to pottery.

He made a large number of pots for The Lord of the Rings in 2000, and in 2011 received the Gratis Agit award from the Czech Government for his contribution to the good name of the Czech Republic.

He died in May 2013.

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