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Wall-sized Wattie's history

Checking out the historic Wattie’s can labels was an important part of preparing for painting a massive mural on the rear of the canning company’s Tomoana Rd Plant.

“It was really interesting; seeing the style and colours and realising that you remember those labels from when you were a kid,” said artist Brandon Blair. “It is a real look of its time, and it’s awesome to see that history out of the archive and up in the public eye.”

He was charged with recreating, on the 20m by 3m brick wall, an artwork celebrating Wattie’s more than 80 years history in the district, prepared by designer Alan Passchier. It features a Wattie’s label from the 1960s.

After cleaning and undercoating the wall the painting of the mural took about 40 hours, spread over a week-and-a-half. It was a bit tricky, as the cold meant work had to finish by mid-afternoon to allow the paint time to dry. “It’s on the cold side of the building, so I had to be careful I didn’t come back in the morning to find it all slumped on the ground.”

Luckily the weather over that week stayed fine – which also meant there were quite a few walkers and cyclists on the adjacent cycleway, taking an interest in the project.

“You’d look up and see them watching. That’s the thing about working so publicly; it can become a bit like performance art.”

Brandon had been painting large for four years after quitting his signwriting career. He was made redundant and decided to concentrate on his art rather than head back into signwriting. “When I started in signwriting there was a lot of brush work and you had some creative licence but as the industry became more reliant on computers that individual component became less and less. You used to be able to drive around town and know who had painted which signs – not anymore. So I had always been an artist and decided to try and make a living from it.”

The move had been a success. Much of his work, through his business Crimson Flower, is for preschools and primary schools. “Those are great. They talk you through their ideas and philosophies and I can use my creativity to come up with the artwork and then reproduce it, usually on a fence or the side of a building. They are bright and vibrant, you’re telling a story, and you can see the real difference they make to the landscape.”

More walls awaited. His next commission is for Te Taiwhenua, in an area used by preschoolers.

“It’s funny once you start doing this – there are just blank walls everywhere that I’d love to have a go on.”

The painting of the mural was supported by Hastings District Council, as part of its drive to continue enhancing the attractiveness and vibrancy of the district. Deputy mayor Sandra Hazlehurst said the mural achieved a number of ains. “It adds vibrancy to our environment and recognises that Hastings is the home of Heinz Wattie’s. It has had a very big part in the development of our wonderful district over the decades. We are incredibly fortunate that all the parties, especially Wattie’s, pulled together to get this achieved.”

Heinz Wattie’s are also very pleased with the mural. Managing director Mike Pretty said the company had a long and proud history in Hastings and being able to so publicly add to the character of the city was an honour. “It looks as good as we had hoped. It is a real eye-catcher from both the A&P Showgrounds and the cycleway.”

Wattie’s history in Hastings dates back to 1934, when Jim Wattie and Harold Carr started J. Wattie Canneries Ltd. Mr Wattie saw that fresh Hawke’s Bay produce was being wasted because it was too expensive to send it to Auckland and Wellington. The pair started pulping gooseberries, plums and peaches to be made into jam, before moving into canning peaches and pears. From there it was a short stride to canning peas and tomatoes.

Wattie’s products are in virtually every household in New Zealand and two thirds of production is exported across the world. Today Wattie’s makes a wide range of products including the iconic Wattie’s Tomato Sauce, Baked Beans and Spaghetti, frozen foods, fruit and vegetables, jams, soup and pet food.

For more on the artist’s work see:

4 October 2017

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