Gallery’s printmaker owner loves Cromwell

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Visitors to Old Cromwell Town will often find a sinuous vintage Citroen parked outside the Belfast Store with a sprightly bearded man in front of it, enjoying a coffee.

The owner is Chris de Jong, who also owns the gallery inside the former general store.

Mr de Jong arrived in New Zealand from his native Netherlands in the ’60s and soon established himself as a talented printmaker.

He was instrumental in setting up the printmaking workshop at the School of Art at Otago Polytechnic, teaching generations of students, many of whom have gone on to successful careers.

His wife, Gail de Jong, a landscape artist, was head of the arts department at Dunedin’s Kavanagh College for 15 years.

Her painting Carrick Water Race won the Outstanding Central Otago Artist Award in the Arts Gold Awards earlier this year.

Mrs de Jong was the driving force behind coming to Cromwell.

Her love of the Central Otago terrain, which features in her rich multilayered oil paintings, prompted a move to Cromwell in 2010.

Mr de Jong decided to set up the gallery, called Old Cromwell Town Art (OCTA), so he could promote the art of his many friends and former students.

The gallery features prints, oils, pottery and sculpture from local and international artists.

One of the painters Mr de Jong loves is major New Zealand artist Gretchen Albrecht.

An original painting on paper of hers that he bought will receive a new lease of life thanks to his printmaking skills.

The painting has “foxing”– small spots and discolourations on the paper – but Mr de Jong had a remedy that would remove it.

The whole painting would be soaked in a tray of water with a mild bleach.

“Any proper conservation person would probably have a heart attack when they heard that,” he said.

But it removed foxing without damaging the paint.

“Even the pencil signature won’t be affected,” Mr de Jong said.

As well as being involved in the art world for most of his life, Mr de Jong enjoys classic cars.

His 1939 Citroen roadster arrived in pieces from Auckland when he bought it, and he spent many hours lovingly rebuilding it to its former glory.

His appreciation of history was one of the reasons he was enchanted by Old Cromwell Town.

“Here there is the lovely mix between the relics of the past, some art of the not-too-distant past, and then some of it being part of the future with contemporary artists,” Mr de Jong said.

He plans to spend many more years enjoying beginning the day with a simple coffee while looking over Cromwell Lake, before sharing art treasures in his gallery with visitors and locals.