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The life-sized, naked butterfly fairy sculpture, composed of stainless steel and wire, is one of Mark Hayes’ most complicated creations. Photo: SUPPLIED

Sprinkling fairy magic over gallery show

Take a peek in Mikkelsen’s Gallery in Paeroa, and you could be forgiven for thinking you’d wandered into another realm. 

Visitors to the Into the Garden art exhibition, opening on November 2, can expect to be greeted by a life-sized fairy, arms outstretched as she reaches for a butterfly. 

The whimsical sculpture stands 155 cm tall, with a wingspan of 2.5 metres. Despite being constructed entirely of stainless steel, she looks ethereal and delicate, ready to flutter off at a moment’s notice. 

Paeroa steel fabrication artist Mark Hayes said the fairy’s creation was complex and time-consuming, and her very existence happened purely by chance. 

“A client came to me a few years ago wanting a dandelion made – she had some technical photos and we thought this shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” Mark said. 

“She said, ‘I really like this little fairy that’s holding the dandelion.’ It probably should have been a fairy only two feet tall, but somehow in the development of this project it became a life-sized fairy.” 

The dandelion fairy was spotted by gallery owner Wendy Mikkelsen, and the pair immediately decided Mark should create more. The butterfly girl now gracing the gallery was Mark’s second; the framework for a third is in construction. 

“They are quite a complicated piece of kit; there’s a lot of internal structure in these fairies,” Mark said. 

“Probably the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that everything has to be perfect before you even start weaving the wire onto them, or else that mistake just becomes ten times more noticeable.

“No matter how hard you beat them with a hammer, there’s no way you can get some of the mistakes out.”

Each fairy takes close to 200 hours of work to complete – and Mark said that was a conservative estimate. 

“When it comes to the wire that’s being used, we measure it by the kilometre. I’ll have a couple of hours spare and I’ll sit down and put 50 metres of wire into a fairy. And I’ll step back and not even be able to see where I’ve gone,” he said. 

“When we first thought of building them, I thought I’d just put them on a little stand and spin them, and we’re just going to wind the wire around and we’ll be done. Well, that lasted about 30 seconds, and then I had wire all over the workshop in big coils and knots. 

“All the wire has to be woven in.”

Mark said it was great to collaborate with Wendy again on the fairy, just one of the garden-themed pieces to be displayed in the gallery over the next two months. 

“[The gallery fire in 2022] really knocked Wendy, because she lost [husband] Steve a little bit before this and then the fire came … everything sort of stopped for her,” Mark said.
“She has done an amazing job with getting everything up and going again. 

“Wendy is usually my partner in crime, coming up with these crazy sculptures. We’ve done all sorts through the years, nothing surprises me any more.” 

By ALICE PARMINTER, Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air