2 Mar 23 - Resident stories

The beauty of creation

Visitors to Ron and Yvonne Laing’s home can be forgiven for thinking they have stepped into an art studio. Between them, the couple from Summerset in the Bay have quite the creative streak. Paintings by Yvonne adorn the walls, while stone dwellings made by Ron are dotted around the garden.

Ron, a carpenter by trade, has always been an artistic sort. “When we were newly married, and our children were young, I made decorative wishing wells in the evenings. With Yvonne’s pot plants in them, I went to local motels and hotels to see if they’d be interested in buying one for their reception area. They were popular and sold for $10 each, plus the plant for $5. I sold about 150 and we used the money to reduce the mortgage.”

Ron also used his carpentry skills to build five motorhomes, using a truck first and then buses. They received many admiring comments. “I really enjoyed doing the fitting out. We still love exploring New Zealand. Having motorhome parking here is one of the reasons this village appealed to us.”

Ron hails from Wanganui and Yvonne from Christchurch. They met when they attended the same church camp when Ron was 22 and Yvonne was 17. “Our faith has been a great motivator for both of us. It has influenced a lot of our life decisions,” Yvonne says.

In 1964 Ron volunteered to teach and assist the locals to build their own 50-bed hospital and school buildings on a remote Vanuatu island. “In those days there were no government agencies involved. Missionaries staffed the hospital and schools. I oversaw the building projects – there was no one else! Water tanks, concrete blocks and drainage pipes were all made by hand using sand and coral from the volcanic coastline. It took Kiwi ingenuity to use the materials available – plus 100 tonnes of cement!” Ron says. “When we went back to Vanuatu 10 years ago, it was great to see everything had lasted, all these years. I caught up with many of the workers from 48 years earlier. Their sons are now doing what I trained the fathers to do. We shared photos of those days; it was really great reminiscing.”

The couple, along with their two young daughters, went to Tonga after the 1977 earthquake, Ron to supervise the rebuilding programme and Yvonne as a nurse volunteer. She assisted a Tongan/Kiwi couple organise help for children and young adults with talipes (club foot). “There is a high incidence of club foot in Tonga. It can be a straightforward intervention if addressed early enough, but back then there was a stigma around it and those with it were hidden away. We walked through each village aiding affected families. An Australian orthopaedic surgeon and his team came each year with all the equipment needed to operate on these children. Now, 50 years later, this programme is still running.”

Nowadays, Ron re-creates by hand miniature versions of the stone miners’ cottages of 1850s Otago, as well as several versions of the Church of the Good Shepherd on Lake Tekapo. “I found the floor plan online. My version is 1:30 scale. The shape is formed from cement sheet and the roof is malthoid. I hand-cut the tiles. The wall cladding is beach pebbles, from Greymouth and Invercargill. I glue them on individually, then put mortar over the stones and apply glaze coats once it’s dry. Each building takes about a week to make. This is my fourth Church of the Good Shepherd. I have also made a Lyttelton Timeball Station.”

Yvonne’s hobby had little correlation with her career as a nurse. “When I retired, I took up painting at my twin’s suggestion,” she said. “Lorraine told me that anyone can learn to paint if they observe accurately. You won’t know if you don’t try. I soon found enjoyment and relaxation painting with the small art group here.”

Yvonne will give anything a go, and paints people, animals, birds and scenery equally well. “My first portrait was for my mother-in-law. Ron’s dad had died when he was young and his mum, whose eyesight was failing, had only small photos of him, so I painted a large portrait for her. Mum loved it. She said, ‘It’s just like him. You have caught the sparkle in his eyes.’ That gave us both a lot of joy.”

Yvonne works from her own photographs or makes things up in her head. “Once when on holiday in the Swiss Alps we saw two St Bernard dogs sitting on concrete while their owner charged people to take photos. When I painted them, I changed the backdrop to the mountain scene nearby – more their natural environment than the concrete car park!”

While Yvonne paints for enjoyment and doesn’t advertise, news of her paintings has spread through word of mouth. She has been commissioned by fellow residents and lots of folk in the wider community to paint for them. “We have lived in the village for 16 years. I am encouraged when I see people enjoying my hobby.”

This is an article from the Summer 2022 edition of Summerset Scene magazine

Click here to read the full issue