Driving along in the tumbling hills of the Catlins on New Zealand’s South Island you can stumble across some ‘curios’ places (sorry for the cheesy wordplay – the bay close by is called Curio Bay). The Lost Gypsy Gallery in Papatowai is an incredible little place.
Pretty much stuck in the middle of nowhere on one of the most Southern tips of the world, surrounded by astonishing landscapes and secluded beaches is a little caravan with mechanical sculptures and handmade fountains. Coming closer you realise that most of these objects are made of recycled materials, such as scrap metal, old bottles and Paua shells.
When you step into the small bus housing the Lost Gypsy Gallery, cluttered with fantastic tiny little machines or mechanical toys, it is like entering the world of an eccentric genius which is exactly what it is. The walls are covered in small circuits and retro posters of old cartoons and advertisements.
Large rounded pearly shells are connected to one another with wires and suspended over a small dish of water, as you turn them they scoop up the water making trickling sounds as the water splashes out again. There are small machines operated by tiny motors or complex mechanical functions everywhere and a little train track reaches all around the little bus on which you can watch a tiny train whizzing past you.
Outside there is a small aluminium caravan which sells delicious coffee, next to it are seats and benches made of reclaimed wood and decorated with glass bottle parts, shells and other discarded materials.
Next to the old gypsy bus is the entrance to the Winding Thoughts Theatre which is full of fun ‘toys’ for grown ups. The star attraction being the piano – each key is connected to an object that makes a sound.
One is connected to a mannequin head covered in dreadlocks fastened with bells, another to a drum while one is connected to a tape recorder running on a circuit.
The complex structure allows you to create a one man band which screeches along and often triggers moving objects. The whole experience is a lot of fun mainly because of the creative energy the place exerts and all the eccentric and brilliant inventions surrounding you.
You can find the creator Blair Somerville working away in his workshop attached to The Lost Gypsy Gallery surrounded by circuits and small tools building numerous mechanical objects. He has been working on this project for the last 15 years adding more and more ambitious pieces to it as he goes along. Each piece is like a work of art, created from discarded or found materials and brought back to life with Blair’s impressive skill and vivid imagination.