Home is where the art is: Jane Evans’ cottage of colour

Jane Evans' house Open2view

Open2view photographs thousands of great homes for sale every year. Recently our Nelson team got to photograph a particularly special cottage. 41 Russell Street, Stepneyville was home for 27 years to one of New Zealand’s most colourful, successful artists.

Jane Evans (1946-2012) spent almost her entire lifetime painting. She won her first art competition at 15 and held her first of more than 60 solo exhibitions all the way back in 1965.

Jane Evans

Jane Evans

It was not an easy life. From her teenage years Evans suffered chronic cases of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and was under strict orders to avoid direct sunlight as much as possible. Through her art, however, she could instead bring nature’s vibrancy to her. If looking to describe Jane Evans’ style in one word, this non-arty guy would just say ‘colour’.

This more authoritative description comes from Wild Tomato magazine:

Often home for long periods due to ill health, she began to paint the flowers and colours of her garden. This bold, bright artwork quickly became her signature, although it was often considered precocious as colour was just beginning to emerge, replacing the earthy tones of landscape painting at the time. She still draws on those earlier roots in her more contemporary work.

Jane Evans house Open2view 2

Inside, and out, Jane Evans’ house provided ample shade and natural light while avoiding the harmful effects of direct sunlight.

Friends spoke of her as someone who never complained about her ailments and always looked for the bright side in everything – a bright side that shone through her work, and the cottage where she lived for 27 years.

The story of her house dates all the way back to 1878. It was built originally for Captain Vickerman, a notable seaman in Nelson’s early history. When he wasn’t at sea he would spend his time looking at the sea through a telescope on his property. It would be fair to say that Captain Vickerman liked the sea.

Vickerman was a mate on the Charles Edward before being promoted to captain of the Murray. Vickerman was a popular captain: the West Coast Times declared that this promotion “will give general satisfaction to traders here, as he has always been found courteous and obliging in the discharge of his duties.”

Vickerman captained the Murray for many years. One of his most important missions was transporting budding young scientist Ernest Rutherford, his family and all their belongings to the North Island – including horses, flax milling machinery, timber and trillions of atoms for Ernest to play with.

Captain Vickerman’s land base had served him well, but when Jane Evans purchased it in 1985 wholesale changes were inevitable. Not least because the weatherboard was rotting, but an artist of Evans’ style was always going to put her own mark on anything she owns.

With the help of prominent Wellington architect Ian Athfield they set about transforming it into a Mediterranean style home and studio – reminiscent of what she saw when travelling as a young woman. And, of course, she filled it to the very top with colour.

Jane Evans house Open2view 4

The interior is as colourful as the outside, thanks to Jane Evans’ eye for fashion and plenty of examples of her work.

The house is unique for another reason: according to an NZ House & Garden interview, Evans and her design team invented “a method of cladding an old weatherboard house in clay that, to my knowledge, had never been done before.”

Whatever they did, it worked. 27 years later this still-sturdy cottage is brimming with Evans’ personality. No matter where you are in or outside her house it would be near-impossible for even the most amateur artist to not come away inspired.

Friend and publisher Craig Potton paid what is perhaps the best tribute to Jane Evans: “she was not a turgid, self-involved sad-sack like some of us.” Words I would love to see on my headstone when the time comes.

41 Russell Street is, just like its late owner, one of a kind. Admire this work of art for yourself, and read more about Jane Evans’ life and times here and here.

Jane Evans house Open2view 4

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