A 60-year-old iconic roadside Waipū barn is undergoing a radical makeover in the hope of eventually welcoming those back to the region post-lockdowns.
The "Waipū Welcomes You" barn is one of the first visual objects seen when travelling SH1, welcoming visitors and residents to the area of Waipū and also, now the first large scale artwork when entering the Whangārei District.
It is now sporting a bright purple shade, as opposed the familiar yellow, and a design by local award-winning artist Melinda Butt, who was thrilled to be offered the opportunity to recreate the symbolic barn welcoming people to the region.
"I have fond memories of my teenage years, coming to Waipū in the summer holidays. When driving over the Brynderwyns, seeing the barn was an icon of summer beginning. Now as a Waipū local, having the opportunity to paint the iconic barn is a real treat. I have done a lot of murals in Northland and in Auckland but this is the first time I'll be creating something in my hometown."
Her design is abstract and geometrical for ease of large scale paint application. Rather than one set pattern or pictorial theme, the abstract nature of the work is adapted to suit the unique needs of the existing corrugate iron canvas, and the intended viewing distance.
"Trying to paint lettering on curved corrugation and with the height, I've really had to get up close and intimate with it," Butt said. "Ultimately it is a sign, so you can't get too technical because, one, it's on corrugated iron and, two, it needs to have impact from afar."
The barn belongs to Lachie McLean who lives on the 176ha dairy farm which has been in his family 150 years.
"My father built the barn in the mid-60s and it was one of the first round barns in Northland," he recalled.
McLean believed it was first suggested the barn be used as a welcoming sign around the year 2000.
"When you live in a community you're happy to support it," said McLean, who lives onsite in the original 1908 homestead.
He said it was first painted by local artist Yvonne Ritchie, followed by its first makeover some 10-20 years ago, remaining the familiar yellow hue.
"This makeover is really the grandest one of the lot. The purple actually looks really good. I had an old school friend question the colour and I said, 'Well, we've had our day, it's time for the younger people to do what they want. These people have done a great job."
Butt had put forward several designs and the community had voted. While the font remains the same, the base is purple, which was inspired by the traditional Waipū tartan after Butt discovered it formed one of the base colours of the Scottish patterned cloth. The design incorporates the traditional symbolic Waipū thistle in a contemporary take of the emblem and depicts "that wonderful vista" where the hills meet the ocean, as well as keeping some if the familiar yellow, described Butt.
"It's a bold statement but the locals have been supportive. In terms of the lettering, I'm just refreshing it because it's iconic. It's kind of cool because it's old meets the new. If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
The project was given the green light after "Love Waipu" Business & Community Inc. obtained a Whangārei District Council Community Funding grant to repaint the barn.
Before painting could begin, repair work was needed to the rusted barn, including where cows had been utilising it as a scratching post. Businesses had chipped in, such as ISS for the scaffolding, Troy's Water Blasting Services and Resene.
Butt had enlisted the help of fellow painter Ronnie Haynes for the task which was expected to take a week, weather-pending.
"You've got to account for unforeseeable things always when working outdoors.
"I've painted a few toilet blocks along the coastline and that's really good because it's at the beach. It gives an insight into the community when you're on location for about a week, you get to intimately know the area and the goings-on.
"I really love the land (in Waipū). It's a peaceful atmosphere in that little pocket."
Love Waipū committee member Emma McLean said it was hoped that, if border restrictions eased soon, the new mural would be complete in time to welcome visitors and people home in a season where everyone could benefit from a bit of brightness to their day.
"In a post-Covid world, the project aims to uplift the spirits of travellers returning home, and domestic travellers visiting to the Waipū or Whangārei district."