A historic cottage owned by Otago artist Pauline Bellamy continues to attract attention in tiny St Bathans. She talks to Adam Burns about her love for the Central Otago village and her country retreat.

For more than 40 years, historic St Bathans has been a refuge for Dunedin painter Pauline Bellamy.

The sleepy Central Otago village has been a cherished hideaway for the Macandrew Bay artist, who has owned a historic cottage in the main street since the early 1970s.

The mud-brick property was originally an old billiards saloon and stables and Bellamy believed the saloon part of the building dated back to the 1870s. The stables were added on in 1896.

Advertisement
Blue Lake, by Pauline Bellamy.
Blue Lake, by Pauline Bellamy.

Bellamy converted the property into a studio and gallery of works in 1974.

''There's a timelessness,'' she said. ''It's got a really special atmosphere because of its age. People just get drawn through the front door thinking it's a museum. We embrace that.''

Bellamy said work to the property had been kept to a minimum in order to maintain the ''basic, rustic quality''.

''You feel like you're in a completely different world. We try to keep its character.''

In the building's stables section Bellamy has created a ''mini museum'' of things such as her paintings, old relics of the township and early photographic prints from the likes of the Burton Brothers.

Ms Bellamy bought the property in 1972 for $1000.

''It was the first time that anything had really sold. They had a big community meeting at the time to see if it [the sale] was all right.''

The Bellamy family's 140-year-old St Bathans mud-brick property stands under a cloudy sky. Photos: Supplied
The Bellamy family's 140-year-old St Bathans mud-brick property stands under a cloudy sky. Photos: Supplied

Originally from Thames, Bellamy and her then husband wanted a hideaway to store their things in New Zealand as they backpacked through Europe.

Advertisement

On their return it served as Bellamy's main abode for 17 years. She made goat's cheese, grew vegetables and ''lived the isolated artist's dream'' before relocating to Dunedin.

Bellamy still feels the urge to return to St Bathans a couple of times a month to paint.
In 2004, she released a book of landscape etchings of the St Bathans township.

''I'm attracted to the heritage of these areas ... I love painting outside.''

Her son, Manu Berry, is also a Dunedin-based painter and spent much of his childhood in St Bathans.

He said the home had a lot of use over the years by family and friends.

''I was really lucky that there were three other kids in the village at the same time and we could tear around the place, climbing trees and cliffs - although I have a 6-year-old daughter now and I would hate it if she was climbing those cliffs.''

Advertisement

Another one of Bellamy's children, Miranda Bellamy, has been creating a short documentary film about her mother for the past four years.

In Plain Air, which celebrates Ms Bellamy's painting ''set within the incredible landscapes of the Otago region'', is due for release later this year.

adam.burns@odt.co.nz