Jenny Mehrtens jokes that art is her golf. In her comfortable Arrowtown gallery she tells PHILIP CHANDLER why she took up the brush, why she yearned to live here and why she has a globe, while also singing the praises of her family
Hardly anyone better illustrates the joys of living and working in Arrowtown than successful artist Jenny Mehrtens.
A painter whose signature work employs — appropriately for a town ‘born of gold’ — gold
metal leaf, she resides close by at Millbrook Resort and has a large studio and gallery in the
Dudley’s Cottage Precinct.
Despite only relocating here in 2010, it seemed inevitable she’d make the move.
Growing up in Dunedin, her family had a Southland spot they’d holiday at but they’d also
spend a few days in Queenstown.
Because the visits were infrequent, and her mum, who spent her first 12 or so years here,
‘‘always used to remark on the hills and the mountains and the lakes’’, Queenstown in her mind became ‘‘this magical place’’.
After schooling, she studied and practised physiotherapy but, lacking enthusiasm for it, started a clothing business, employing several machinists.
After meeting and marrying Dunedin boy Richard Mehrtens, they moved to Wellington in ’89 so he could take up a law firm partnership.
Over the next years Jenny raised three children, which she admits was ‘‘the most rewarding thing in my life’’.
In her early 40s, as the kids started flying the coop, she studied art part-time for two years.
‘‘I virtually sold all my stuff in the group exhibitions at the end of both years, and I just sort of knew I had something.’’
It wasn’t a sudden thing, she says, as she’d been creative all her life, and used to tell her off spring stories by drawing pictures.
About 20 years ago, she and Richard bought a Millbrook property.
‘‘It was our holiday home for about 10 years until we thought, ‘let’s just do this full-time’.
‘‘Coming here to live full-time was a dream that turned into a reality.
‘‘I still appreciate the natural beauty, but it is the people and the sense of community [in Arrowtown] I love.
‘‘We have a real heart to our town.’’
She first made a name in art circles with paintings of letter boxes and goldminers in a joint
exhibition with Christine Lady Hill.
Later, she says commissions from interior designer Virginia Fisher for a lodge near Taupo
and from Cloudy Bay winery’s owners helped a lot.
She’s sold art to heads of state and directors of big overseas galleries, and has a globe proudly showing where in the world she has works hanging.
A lot of her subject matter’s related to New Zealand history, while she also loves portraiture.
People’s obsession with cosmetic surgery’s bizarre, she says.
‘‘Because, as a painter, as someone gets older they get more interesting.’’
‘Be worldly from Arrowtown’ is a saying her hubby’s instilled in his family, Jenny says — ‘‘what you do from here has to be good enough for an international audience’’.
However, she’s just as thrilled with the support she gets from locals.
‘‘I feel like the NZ trait of ‘tall poppy’ doesn’t exist here.’’
Now 59, Jenny also revels in the success of her now-adult children.
Both boys are musicians — Sam, as Sam Wave, is based in Queenstown and about to release his third album, while New Plymouth-based Josh is lead singer/guitarist for Mild Orange, who have has toured internationally.
Lucy, meanwhile, is based in Denmark and is global digital workspace manager for a firm
employing 16,000 people around the world.
Richard, for his part, is now adays a successful businessman and keen golfer.
Meanwhile, between walking the dog and biking on the ‘‘fabulous trails around here’’, Jenny
works from her studio, often seven days a week.
‘‘Like writing, it’s a way of connecting with people and communicating ideas and when
someone gets that and wants to pay for it …’’