Time to Read: 7 Minutes

The old Egmont Chambers building on Fenton Street has become a statement of what Stratford’s town centre could look like with a bit of love and attention. Over the months we’ve watched it transform from a sad and uninspired building to a fantastic statement piece that stands tall and proud as the new home of the Fenton Street Art Collective by Jo Stallard & Stuart Greenhill. It is all black and it is so beautifully finished that it’s a piece of art on its own. When we got an invite in the mail to attend the opening night for the Fenton Street Art Collective, we jumped at the chance. 

All we knew about the Fenton Street Art Collective is that it’s an art gallery, roastery, and a distillery, but that was enough to catch our attention. As soon as we walked through the glass front door, we were transported into a completely new world. My eyes didn’t know where to look because every detail told a story. So much of the downstairs front room was the raw materials of the original building, and instead of covering them up, they were promoted as features in the room. Jo Stallard said that this is what the building truly is, and they wanted to honour that when doing the renovations. The floor is polished concrete where you can see the lines of where the old lawyers’ offices once stood. Usually the floor isn’t typically a feature in an art gallery, but while I was looking around, trying to soak in as many small details as I could, I noticed some coins in the concrete. One was an old New Zealand penny. I’ve never seen an old penny before, so it was so cool to see a piece of New Zealand history preserved in such a unique way.

Fenton Street Art Collective

Looking around the room, my favourite thing was seeing the old concrete structural beams next to the new steel structural beams, but what made it so eye catching was the hole in the concrete beams where stacks of books could be seen. It was so clever and unique that we had to ask ourselves whether it was part of the building or an art exhibition on its own. Next to the beams sits a staircase with some names on them. At first glance this didn’t mean much to me, I just thought they were added to the stairs to make them look good, but Stuart Greenhill then told us that each one of those names is someone who was either born in, or called Stratford home, who is recognised around the world for their contribution to art or literature. It was fascinating to see all those names and it gave us all a really strong sense of pride that our cool little town has produced such incredible talent. On the surface it is easy to think that Stratford doesn’t have a lot of art culture, but the staircase is a true testament that we have a long history with the arts and now is the time to really showcase it, which is what the Fenton Street Art Collective is doing.

The Cafe at Fenton Street Art Collective

Aside from the floor and the walls, I guess I should also mention the coffee bar. It’s a funky little bar that wouldn’t look out of place in the high streets of Auckland. There’s also table and chairs to sit down with friends and enjoy the art. And if you didn’t go with friends, I’m sure it wouldn’t take you long to talk to Jo and Stuart and become friends with them too. Down the hallway was a mixture of rooms. One was set out like a living room with dominos set out on the side table, and I think I would have been quite happy to hide out here for a couple of hours. It has such a cosy and relaxing vibe about it. There was more to explore so I couldn’t stop here and miss all the other beautiful rooms. The room behind it had a large wood table and bench seats with windows looking out onto a green area with the sound of the Patea river babbling away in the distance.

Fenton Street Artwork

We got talking to some people when Jo came over and invited us upstairs to their living part of the building. Downstairs is commercial, and upstairs is Jo and Stuarts home. As Jo showed us around, I couldn’t lift my jaw off the ground. It was simply stunning. The attention to detail was mind blowing, as was their ability to see potential in this old building. You walk into their kitchen/living area and it is a beautifully modern industrial look kitchen with elements of the buildings original story shining through. The kitchen is elegant, simple and beautiful. To the left, we fell in love with their indoor patio. An entire room full of living plants, growing and thriving and showing us all that they ruled that room. It was so tranquil and peaceful. It’s incredible to think that such an amazing room is right here in Stratford when it could easily be the cover of any house or garden magazine. Something about it was so cosy and enchanting and we were simply blown away by its beauty.

Quality Food & Coffee at Fenton Street Art Collective

When we finally pried ourselves away from the indoor patio, we were fortunate enough to see some of the awe-inspiring art that Jo has created. My words are not enough to describe Jos incredible art. Many of them were portraits of people. I fell in love with one painting of a little girl with a flower head band looking down. It was so captivating and extraordinary. It was even more special to discover that the little girl was Jo’s granddaughter. Many of the people featured in her art were her family and you could see that every stroke was a labour of love. Jo said that some of her art will be displayed downstairs from time to time so I’m looking forward to going back and exploring her art some more. Jo can be seen at night upstairs in her art room creating her art. Its her passion and you can see this passion throughout the home and within the commercial part of the building too.

Fenton Street Deco

We headed back downstairs, and Jo and Stuart said a few words to us all. They spoke of the journey they took to get to this point in their lives, they spoke about the current exhibit they have, (Constanza Briceno: The Art of Making Mistakes), and thanked us all for coming. After a few more nibbles and chit chat it was time for us to go and I could finally pick my jaw up off the floor. I am certain that from the moment I walked in until the moment we left my jaw kept dropping at the sublime beauty of the Fenton Street Art Collective. We left the inspired bubble of Fenton Street Art Collective and headed back to our very ordinary home (with no indoor patio!) feeling moved and so proud of our town.

Jo & Stu - Fenton Street Art Collective

The Fenton Street Art Collective is open 7 days a week and I thoroughly recommend everyone goes to visit. Even if you are a total amateur when it comes to art, like me, I’m sure you will still find something there that you love, be it the art, coffee, gifts or the gin. There’s something for everyone and the work of Jo and Stuart needs to be seen to be believed. I wish them every success as I believe what they are doing is brilliant and it is great to see this part of Stratford being thrust into the limelight again because as Stuart said, there is so much more to Stratford than just being a small service town for the farmers!

Renovations at Fenton Street Art Collective

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