A woodworking business, which was founded in Whanganui 70 years ago by Austin Brasell and became Sovereign Woodworkers, is closing down.
Timber Arts New Zealand, which from 1993 has carried on the tradition of handcrafting items, including the iconic ruler, from a wide range of native New Zealand timbers, has been badly affected by the closure of the border due to Covid-19. The bulk of its sales were to overseas visitors and the impact of the border closure has led to owner Ian Cragg's decision to close the business.
Brasell began making wood products in his home workshop in the 1940s before setting up Sovereign Woodworkers with Arnold (Arnie) Burling and Edwin (Wyn) Hart in 1949. For 43 years, the company operated from its premises in Tawa St, Gonville. Brasell retired as manager in 1970 but remained as company chairman. He died in 1985.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Sovereign produced some of the few quality New Zealand-made souvenirs available at the time. However, by the 1980s changes in the tourist market saw the company downsize and in 1992 Sovereign was placed in liquidation.
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After purchasing some of the timber stocks, Timber Arts New Zealand carried on handcrafting a small range of the company's traditional products at the Tawa St factory while introducing some of its own designs. In 2000 the business moved to Bulls, ending its five-decade association with Gonville.
Although he never met Brasell, Cragg said it was evident he was a talented and innovative man who contributed a lot to Whanganui and was to be respected for what he achieved. At one stage the company had more than 100 different lines of wooden items which were sold throughout the country and its work could be found in homes all over New Zealand.
At its peak it employed more than 20 staff . However, in recent years it became evident the days of making labour-intensive, low-value and low-margin wood products - when coupled with the great increase in the cost of purchasing native timbers - were numbered, Cragg said.
Seventy years after Brasell produced the first ruler featuring New Zealand native timbers in his home workshop, it is still a popular item with New Zealanders and tourists. There would be few products that have had such longevity, Cragg said.