A shop, gallery, workshop centre and music venue, Ventana Creative Collective aims at becoming Martinborough’s creative heart.
It is a sunny Martinborough afternoon and a group of us are happily skiving at Ventana Creative Collective. Skiving, as in thinning leather, that is. One of the country’s most skilled handmade shoemakers, Sue Engels, has flown in from Waiheke Island to teach us the ancient craft of shoemaking.
Never having done anything like this before, I am frankly sceptical of my own ability to make a wearable sandal. Yet, step by step, Sue guides us through the intricate process of cutting leather, glueing the uppers to the sole, and hole punching shoe straps. It’s absorbing, and surprisingly a bit of a work out – you need a steady hand to cut through thick leather.
Part of the fun comes from learning a process with a group of strangers. We chat while lining up around the glue pot (known as the glue boy in shoemaker speak) ready to stick our leather uppers to soles. And at the end of the day, we all walk out not only with a sense of achievement, but holding a pair of sweet, strappy leather sandals. We’ll be wearing them with pride this summer.
That’s the reaction Ventana founder Auriga Martin was hoping for when she set up the programme of workshops. A warm, friendly Californian, she says the classes are designed to bring people together to learn a new skill, and also be accessible and fun.
On the calendar are jewellery making, batik silk scarf painting, and a fun Friday evening painting class to create your own take on a masterpiece.
“We called it ‘paint a masterpiece sip by sip’ because really everyone can paint,” says Auriga. She reckons painting over a glass of wine will help release latent creative talent.
There are children’s workshops and Auriga has tailored a programme for corporates and birthday parties. Hen parties could be interested in learning how to draw with a “handsome male nude model” as inspiration.
Originally from California’s arty Ojai Valley, Auriga and husband Ed Martin (a descendant of the Martinborough founder John Martin) moved to Martinborough 10 years ago. A fine arts graduate from UCLA, Auriga had a full career in software management and IT training but was looking for an outlet for her creativity as well as her organisational skills. When the Kitchener Street site became available, she says it was “like a lightbulb switching on as it seemed the perfect space”.
“Ventana means window in Spanish, and I see this as a window to the world,” she says.
This is reflected in the range of goods stocked in the shop front of house. You’ll find local pottery, leather bags from the UK, jewellery from around the globe, and ceramics, prints and wall hangings from California. “We want to provide cool, unique houseware – things that people may have only seen online before,” says Auriga.
She recalls that even before Ventana officially opened, customers were knocking on the door to see the quirky ceramic shark heads that have a cult following online.
Behind the shop, Auriga has created a multi-purpose gallery in a light, high-ceilinged space that was the town bakery nearly a century ago. White walls highlight a range of original paintings, prints and drawings by both up-and-coming and established New Zealand artists. The gallery is also the workshop centre and a performance venue.
Auriga launched Ventana with A Taste of Tora, featuring tapas and musicians from the Tora, Tora, Tora music festival. This was a fun-filled event that brought the community together with wine, food and music. Watch this space, as Auriga has plans for more of the same.