Meet Peter and Christine Calabria, the creators of the unique Artisans Retreat … where craft workshops, accomodation and great food meld seamlessly together.
What is the concept behind the retreat?
Artisans Retreat’s unique concept is to provide a place where anyone can come and indulge their passion to view and purchase unique craft, or create wonderful pieces for themselves in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere.
It is also a haven to simply drop in for coffee, cakes or light lunch, away from the cares of the world, as well as home for us.
Christine: it evolved from a woodturning lathe that I bought Peter for Christmas five years ago. It became very obvious very quickly that Peter was a talented woodturner, and he soon upgraded to a decent lathe and equipment that took over the suburban garage. The dream began – to have a place big enough to have a shed for the equipment and also space for me to indulge my range of craft activities.
Thus the idea of a workshop happened, not only where we could do our own work, but also where we could teach others artisan skills. The gallery became part of the vision as a space where high quality and unique craft pieces could be displayed. The café started as “Let’s give our customers a nice cup of coffee when they come to visit”, to the present coffee lounge space where morning and afternoon teas and light lunches are available, with special ‘brunch’ all day Sundays as well.
> How did you settle on the location at Mondrook?
We considered a variety of locations including Tasmania and the south coast of New South Wales, but ended up centering our search north of Newcastle. We began a search for suitable land, travelling from the Hunter Valley north as far as Coffs Harbour, but we were continually drawn back to the Manning Valley.
After several hiccups and a certain amount of karma, we stumbled across the five acres at Mondrook, where our place now stands. We had set down six criteria before we started our search – proximity to the highway, 2 to 5 acres, on a designated Tourist Route, on a bitumen road, close to but not in a town, unoccupied land and, if we were lucky, a view.
As soon as we drove on to 702 Tinonee Road, we knew it was the right place. It fulfilled all six criteria, plus it was elevated with a magnificent view of the Manning Valley. We couldn’t believe our luck!
> Who are the people behind the retreat?
Peter and Christine Calabria – the two of us own and run the retreat. Peter’s mum, Anne, lives with us too, and she is the main cook behind all the scrumptious sweet things we serve in our coffee lounge/café.
The Artisans – in our uniquely designed gallery space are the other members of our Artisans Retreat community. Without them, our gallery would not be full of the beautifully crafted pieces that are housed there. Over twenty different artisans (from Emerald in Queensland through to Tasmania and with a large percentage of local North Coast residents) have provided our gallery with an exciting range of works created from timber, metal, fabric, cutlery, glass, bone china … to mention a few.
With a strong emphasis on ‘functional art’, the works have to be seen to appreciate the talent represented in our gallery space.
Also of course, Sorensen and Caldon Builders were instrumental in turning our unusual architectural ideas into the reality you can enjoy today.
> The gallery is home to a wide range of pieces. How do you decide on what is shown?
We decided from the beginning that we did not want to replicate existing galleries and craft shops.
Pieces chosen for sale must be exceptional in their design, hand made with meticulous attention to detail, and quality finished in a style to suit the piece.
Preference is given to ‘functional art, i.e. the piece serves a purpose and will be utilised, rather than sit on a shelf gathering dust. Anything from writing implements, jewellery, plates, bowls and boxes to tuned windchimes and hand made clock movements, to name a few, have made it into the gallery.
> Where did your passion for the arts come from?
Christine: I have always been passionate about art and craft. I grew up with a very creative mum and from an early age was encouraged to use my imagination and create with my hands. I have trained in Fine Arts and as a teacher have always used these skills in classrooms. I have tried too many crafts to mention here – some of which I continue to do to the present day.
Currently, my greatest passion is a relatively new craft called Precious Metal Clay. Beginning with a clay type material, you form jewellery pieces such as pendants, rings, filigree earrings etc, even adding man made gemstones or colourful glass to the pieces. They are dried and then fired, emerging from the kiln as 99.9% pure silver.
Peter: I grew up on a farm and was always ‘making stuff’. Starting Sunne Original Prints, Taree’s first screen printers, in 1972, saw me involved in the graphic arts industry for over 35 years.
This not only gave me opportunity for creativity for my clients; I was instrumental in developing ground breaking techniques and systems for achieving a desired objective.
I have a passion for teaching people these simple problem solving techniques in our fun workshops.
> You offer a wide variety of classes at the retreat. What are the current ones?
Classes currently being taught at Artisans Retreat include woodturning, kiln fired glass (slumping and fusing), candle making, silk painting, hebel sculpture, paper tole, cross stitch, precious metal clay and even kite making for kids. Many more, including beading and life drawing, will be introduced soon. All our classes suit raw beginners, as well as those wanting to hone and expand their skills
> What are your plans for the future of the retreat?
Christine: within the retreat, we have included three home-stay bedrooms for the use of guests who are participating in craft classes. The intention is that workshop participants are able to stay on site and take part in either one or several workshops while in residence. Down the track, we would also like to bring in Master Craftsmen to allow our clientele to develop greater expertise in their chosen crafts.
Another dream is to conduct a Maker’s Market on site to provide local artisans with a place to exhibit and sell their own pieces.
We have set ourselves 20-year goals in a variety of areas. My particular goal is to create a user-friendly low growing bush garden from the top to bottom of our block.
> What is the most rewarding part of the business?
Christine: There are several areas of the business that excite me. The first part that really excited me was the planning. Having been a ‘closet architect’, designing houses since I was a child, this is the first design that has actually been built, and it was very exciting to watch my ideas become a reality.
Peter: designing and building the curved timber for our gallery was extremely satisfying, as they almost seemed like a ‘pie in the sky’ idea when we started. To see this unique space completed and people’s reaction to the architecture is very rewarding.
Since opening, there are two particular areas that we find rewarding.
The first is the look on people’s faces the first moment they enter our gallery – the first response when they realise how great our place is, as well as the satisfied look they have when securing a unique piece.
The second and probably most rewarding experience is the delight of people who have participated in a workshop – the people who have started the class knowing little, sometimes nothing about a craft, leaving with a magnificent piece they have made themselves.
No description can do Artisans Retreat justice. It needs a visit to 702 Tinonee Road, Mondrook to see it for yourself.
You can call Peter and Christine on 6553 1199 or get info at: www.artisansretreat.com
> Thanks for your time.