Ivan Vostinar knew nothing about Whanganui when he moved to the city four years ago.

He bought the building he now occupies on Rangiora St and now finds himself right in the hub of Castlecliff’s redevelopment.

We spoke to the artist behind the studio and gallery with the eye-catching large glass frontage and cacti garden.

Ivan Vostinar had just finished two years as the sole potter on the Hobbit films in Wellington when he made the move to Whanganui.

“I’d always worked as an artist but this was the first time where there was a reasonable income. I’d saved $110,000 but to actually buy something freehold, there aren’t a lot of places around the country,” he says.

Which is when he stumbled on the Rangiora St property in a town which had an arts scene, and was big enough to have a social life.

“I thought this is just too good to pass up.”

The Hobbit was a huge gig for someone who had transitioned from painting to pottery only five years earlier.

“Somehow it really fitted,” he says. “The actual sculpting ideas come really easily, the manipulation of it comes easily. But the whole technical side of it behind it, I had no idea.

“Very early on I committed to it fulltime so there was rapid learning, reading lots of books, seeing lots of work and the fulltime practice.”

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Through work he’d done on a previous film, which never got finished, he landed the Hobbit job.

“I knew it was going to be tough. I did months of practice and training beforehand and really worked on the glazes. In a way, it was like an apprenticeship.”

He spent two years working out of a props workshop near the airport with a range of crafts people.

“It was refreshingly down to earth. Maybe because we were away from the some of the studios we missed some of the interesting stuff. But then again, we missed some of the weird over-the-top and ego type stuff.”

The volume of work involved in making the pottery for the Hobbit is startling.

“It was about six tonnes of clay,” Vostinar says. “And for one scene, for Dale – serious, I’m not making this up – they wanted 13,000 tiles. It was nuts.

“For [Bilbo’s] house there were 1500 pieces of ceramic. Everything – all made in multiples.

“The first six months was the crux because that was also the most checked stuff. They had to be completely happy with it because in the dinner service it’s very much going to show up so they were very particular.

“There was pressure and there was no one else to blame if something went bad, and there was no experienced master potter over shoulder.”

But going it alone is what Vostinar realised he wanted early on as the president of a student’s association in Christchurch.

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“That was a unique position for me as someone fresh out of school studying mechanical engineering and it was an experience of having a role where there was control over your position.

“I really loved that so I thought, yeah, I want to be self-employed.”

Not that he realised it would be in the arts.

“But I liked the idea of having projects and being responsible for it. It’s tougher, but there’s a real beauty in that.”

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And now he’s settled in Whanganui with a studio open to the public and having been involved in Artists Open Studios and Progess Castlecliff.

“There’s still a lot more to do but it’s getting there,” he says.

“I’d really love to have a solo show in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch during the year and to be regularly exhibiting in the big centres.

“I like solo exhibition because it’s quite tough, especially if it’s going to be a gallery, there’s an expectation that there’s a good chunk of work and it has to be at a certain level.”

Vostinar wants to push that artistic side of pottery.

“A craftsperson is great at pumping the same thing and there’s technical excellence in doing that. But an artist should make every item different,” he says.

“If one doesn’t have too much of a fixed expectation or idea to begin with I think there’s a chance of something new emerging.

“I love abstraction. I like simplicity. The form is the most important. The little details don’t matter so much so there’s space for the person who has the work to find something in it of their own imagination.”

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