The rebirth of Wellington’s history-steeped Inverlochy art school
Wellington’s grand Victorian mansion, Inverlochy House, has a checkered past.
It was inhabited by a high society family, reportedly haunted by a ghost, was host to death and murder nearby, used as residential apartments, people tried to demolish it to build a seven story hotel and more recently it has made its way as a school of the arts.
After a period of neglect, the house in Inverlochy Place is slowly being expanded, renovated and more open to the public. Its current caretakers have big plans to add a ceramic studio to an adjacent disused outbuilding, run more classes, and make the building part of Wellington’s artistic legacy.
In some ways, its history, with all its twists and turns, means that it is already linked to the history of the city.
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âWhen people come here for classes, it’s not just about painting, drawing or creating, it’s also about being with like-minded people and that’s what makes it so fun, âsaid Cheryl Corrado, the school‘s creative director. (Corrado also works part-time in a non-editorial role at Things.)
On a tour of the house earlier this year, Corrado, alongside the school’s executive director, Melina Payne, made his way through hidden rooms with wooden floors and stained glass, stairs with railings and doors that lead nowhere, and through a surrounding bush densely overgrown. .
Through hard work and a restructuring of the school, which meant that it would return to an entirely artistic, non-residential place, the couple are part of a small group leading the charge in trying to give it back its old one. glory, in what Corrado described. like a revival.
Designed by local architect Thomas Turnbull for the prominent Macdonald family in the late 1870s and built over two years, the house and the larger property were originally much larger. It has been described as having 14 bedrooms, two bathrooms, two verandas, a vineyard, a fern, a henhouse, a wash house, offices and a stable with two stalls and a box, including the servants quarters.
Many local materials, including the kauri heart, were used in the construction. Other original accessories such as mosaic tiles in the lobby, ornate carved fireplaces and two lion fountains at the front of the building were imported from Europe and the UK. Its name, Inverlochy (first Inverlochie), comes from a 13th century Scottish castle. In 1431, members of Alexander Macdonald’s clan defeated King James I’s largest army in the First Battle of Inverlochy, which took place near the castle.
Inverlochy House was first owned by French-born accountant, city councilor and businessman Thomas Macdonald and his Australian-born wife, Frances. They moved to Wellington in July 1871 from Australia. Although they had three sons together, they all died during the scarlet fever epidemic of 1876. They later adopted a daughter, Vera. The family occupied Inverlochy from 1878.
Like many business leaders, Thomas suffered financial setbacks in the late 1880s and was declared bankrupt, forcing him to leave home. He and Frances then moved into the new, smaller house at 192 The Terrace. Thomas and Frances died in 1914 and 1921 respectively.
For a time Inverlochy was privately owned, but at the turn of the 20th century the house was divided into several independent apartments, and it remained in that state for 70 years. Many additions and deletions to the property during this time have made it look like today.
In 1979, William Development Holdings announced plans to demolish Inverlochy and build a seven-story hotel on the site. Residents received eviction notices, but they began to fight to save the historic building along with other local residents. Led by Fiona Cameron and Martin Hanley, the group organized a program of public activities and meetings. Inverlochy then became the center of a city-wide campaign to save Wellington’s heritage buildings from the wrecking ball.
In 1980, the group was successful, but failed to keep their apartments, when William Development Holdings organized a donation of the building to the city, for use in the arts. A trust was established with members including Sir Michael Fowler, Warren Goston and Guy Ngan, the latter of the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1982, the proposed hotel, the Terrace Regency – now operating as the Grand Mercure MIQ property – was built above Inverlochy on The Terrace.
Between 1981 and March 1986, Inverlochy remained empty. Then the Academy of Fine Arts began to restore the house using its own funds and granting money. The art school was officially opened in December 1987 by Wellington Mayor Jim Belich with classes starting in 1988.
It continued to develop but in 1994 the academy voted to close the “unprofitable” operation which it said had become a drain on its finances. The academy president disagreed with this view and resigned to help set up a new company incorporated with tutors, which helps run the school to this day.
âThere aren’t a lot of spaces in Wellington that function in such a way that it’s art for the sake of art,â Payne said.
âSometimes people ask us if they’re going to be tested on what they learn in our classesâ¦ Places like Massey Fine Arts and all these kinds of academic institutions, they have their place on Wellington’s art scene. But it’s just nice to have spaces like Inverlochy that cater only for creative expression for the sole purpose of creative expression.
In 2006, the house became officially protected when the New Zealand Historic Places Trust (now Heritage New Zealand) registered it as a Class Two Historic Place. In 2017, Inverlochy became a registered charity.
Right now, the house is full of paintbrushes, art and printmaking supplies, easels, artwork, and supplies. There is a grand piano, rooms for making movies and TV shows, rooms with black and white boards for lessons in all kinds of arts and artistic creation, and its keepers have set up a on-site exhibition space for the public to walk around and meet the art.
He’s trying to form partnerships with more arts organizations and artists across the region, so he can develop his classes, with Payne saying he’s open to development. Plans are underway to open a ceramics workshop in a disused outbuilding adjacent to the building. Volunteers help with garden maintenance and other odd jobs around the school.
Classes and workshops are taught by practicing artists throughout the year and include ceramics, writing, sculpture, tissue and paper arts, drawing, jewelry, illustration, painting, painting, photography, mixed media, printmaking, sewing, textiles and sculpture. It tries to make the courses affordable, but it’s a struggle with little external funding, despite huge overhead costs due to its historic elements requiring significant maintenance.
Since the 1970s, Inverlochy has had a reputation for being haunted and has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the local paranormal investigative group Strange Occurrences. Most of the reports relate to objects moving by themselves, which have been recorded in a book Exploring the paranormal in New Zealand.
A documentary on ghostly experiences at school also aired on TV One in 2001 in the Documentary New Zealand: Haunted series.
At least one person said they saw a young woman appear on the first floor landing, possibly wearing Victorian clothing. There are rumors that the ghost could have been a Maori maid who died in a fire in the 1920s, but there is little evidence to support this unrelated newspaper at the time, although the studio print shows signs of fire damage.
Some believe the apparition is the spirit of Frances Macdonald, who has also been reported to haunt 192 The Terrace.
In the early 1980s, former tenant Martin Hanley and his partner claimed that a large mirror jumped off the wall on its own before hitting the opposite wall and sliding to the floor. This was around the time when the developers were trying to turn the house into apartments, and leaving the property would mean she was alone and therefore vulnerable.
Other gruesome school-related events included Jeff Whittington, a 14-year-old Wellington High School student who was beaten to death in a hate crime at Inverlochy Place, the street the mansion is on, in May 1999.
And a young child is said to have accidentally drowned in one of the fountains that adorn the entrance to Inverlochy when they were apartments. To date, only one of the fountains has working water.