‘Artist on the farm’ Kate Cowan brings her love of alpacas to the people


Kate Cowan says her Hira home was a modest, basic build to give her and her son a home on her parents’ farm.

Braden Fastier/Stuff

Kate Cowan says her Hira home was a modest, basic build to give her and her son a home on her parents’ farm.

Kate Cowan describes herself as an “artist on the farm” and loves putting her personality-filled alpacas on paper.

She lives in Hira, just north of Nelson, on a property with alpacas, cows, sheep, goats, horses, dogs and chickens – all of which feature in her original art, prints, greeting cards and art blocks.

The former broadcast journalist, voice-over artist, teacher aide and horse-riding instructor spends her days painting in a bedroom-turned-studio.

Nelson artist Kate Cowan often paints her farm animals, including alpacas Rosie, Diego, and Noodles. “There’s just something about them that’s very appealing. People just love llamas and alpacas,” she says.

BRADEN FASTIER / STUFF/Nelson Mail

Nelson artist Kate Cowan often paints her farm animals, including alpacas Rosie, Diego, and Noodles. “There’s just something about them that’s very appealing. People just love llamas and alpacas,” she says.

She says making a living making art brings her joy. “I absolutely love it. It’s like people talk about the cliche of a dream come true. But a few years ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamed this in my wildest dreams.”

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Cowan moved onto the family land 22 years ago, seven months pregnant and soon to be a single mother to son, Robbie.

KATE: We built this house in 2002. It was a very modest, basic, board and batten home.

My great-grandfather in Scotland was an art collector and I inherited one piece, a painting of Iona, the island in Scotland where my Scottish family still live. It’s by water colourist Bunty Cadell. I sold it through a gallery in Scotland for $50,000.

That gave me a massive leg-up to be able to build this place.

Kate Cowan’s partner Henk-Jan Droppers made this sideboard and most of the furniture in the home. “He made it before I started painting,” Cowan says, “but it’s like it was custom-built for my art, with big drawers at the bottom... I grew up in a house full of old antiques and dark furniture, but my personal preference is more modern, Scandi.”

Braden Fastier/Stuff

Kate Cowan’s partner Henk-Jan Droppers made this sideboard and most of the furniture in the home. “He made it before I started painting,” Cowan says, “but it’s like it was custom-built for my art, with big drawers at the bottom… I grew up in a house full of old antiques and dark furniture, but my personal preference is more modern, Scandi.”

From the beginning, I was thinking that I would just be living here with my little boy. But then [my partner] Henk-Jan came along while we were in the process, and it was perfect. He painted the entire house, interior and exterior. He has a natural ability to make things. He laid this bamboo flooring, and he made all our furniture.

He took Robbie on like his own son and then years later we had Annie. We became a family of four.

I started painting again in 2018. I put my back out really badly, and I was stuck at home for a bit. I finished a figurative art painting I had started in Edinburgh in my 20s. I posted it on Facebook and I got the most incredible response. People wanted to buy it. They were fighting over it.

Christchurch Art Gallery

A glimpse into the creation of Christchurch’s $1m sculpture by artist Ron Mueck. (Video first published in April 2019)

I thought maybe that was a coincidence, so I better paint another one. My style was colourful ladies, My Lovely Ladies, I called them.

This setting is definitely my inspiration. I’m surrounded by my animals. Behind the house I’ve got goats and alpacas, sheep, chickens. I started painting my alpacas and found they were so popular.

I started painting on the kitchen table. I took it over. We had a tiny little space to eat. Henk-Jan is more minimalist and tidy. I’m a walking clutter monster.

Architect Christopher Vine made this ceramic tile depiction of the Nelson Provincial Buildings that Kate Cowan has on display at the entrance to her home.

Braden Fastier/Stuff

Architect Christopher Vine made this ceramic tile depiction of the Nelson Provincial Buildings that Kate Cowan has on display at the entrance to her home.

This ceramic tile piece is of the Provincial Buildings that were demolished in 1969. It’s very special. Retired architect Christopher Vine was one of the prominent Nelsonians who tried so hard to prevent it being demolished, and he created limited numbers of this ceramic piece depicting the building’s outline.

I love the historical aspect of it and Christopher was a good old family friend, an incredibly talented man, respected also as a ceramic artist. I feel quite privileged to have one in our family.

Ross Richards was well-known in the New Zealand pottery community, and was a neighbour of Kate Cowan’s.

Braden fastier/Stuff

Ross Richards was well-known in the New Zealand pottery community, and was a neighbour of Kate Cowan’s.

I also love this Ross Richards teapot. He was a prominent Nelson potter. They were friends and neighbours when I was growing up. I spent one summer working for them, looking after their kids. I used to ride my horse over the hill to get there.

And he gave me that as a thank you for working for them.

This painting of St Bartholomew’s church in London was painted by my great aunt Katie. I was named after her. My father was also a great painter. He came to New Zealand from Scotland in the 1950s and brought some treasured artworks and antiques with him.

My great-grandfather John James Cowan was a well-known art collector. He had everything from (James McNeill) Whistler to Manet and Monet works. But someone persuaded him to sell just about his entire collection.

Kate has two of her paintings on display above a set of drawers in the living area, the very popular Jungle Cat on the left, and We Stayed Home 2020, her work from last year’s lockdown. Kate says the uninterrupted painting time was a rare gift. “Jungle Cat is from a portrait of my cat Stampy,” she says. “I often have to push Stampy off the easel.”

Braden Fastier/Stuff

Kate has two of her paintings on display above a set of drawers in the living area, the very popular Jungle Cat on the left, and We Stayed Home 2020, her work from last year’s lockdown. Kate says the uninterrupted painting time was a rare gift. “Jungle Cat is from a portrait of my cat Stampy,” she says. “I often have to push Stampy off the easel.”

My painting titled We Stayed Home 2020, was intended to reflect the quiet and peaceful ambience of level 4 lockdown. I also painted Jungle Cat and quite a few other animal portraits during that time.

For me, it was a rare gift to have uninterrupted painting time.



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