Christopher Vine

Tucked away in Synagogue Lane (formerly Church Lane) is "The Palms" hidden by rambling vines and foliage it is home to my friend Christopher Vine. 

Synagogue Lane home of Nelson's Christopher Vine 

I have known Christopher since I was a little girl, our families both immigrated from England during the 1960s and met in Nelson to become life-long friends.  We both share a strong interest in art and historic buildings, with Christopher being my go-to for Nelson history. 

After a lovely visit I had with Christopher one day, I thought about the many people who know him (along with those who don't) and find him as fascinating as I do. I thought about how much people would love to see inside his wonderful home and hear some of his stories, so I asked him if I could do a photographic interview with him to share on my blog.

A quote from one of Christopher's friends on her latest visit,

I went there yesterday and sat in the room with a fireplace and gazed across the hall, through the working area and on into the master bedroom, and marvelled at the absolute abundance of references to all the arts and sciences and inventions and creativity and history of humanity. A veritable cornucopia of beauty and inventiveness. Where else could one feast one’s eyes so richly!
Evelyn Davis

One sunny morning in December I visited Christopher with my camera and note pad for brunch, lunch and conversation. During my four hour stay I asked him a variety of questions, of which he answered honestly with his unique Christopher charm. 

Upon arrival Christopher was in his favourite spot inside "Valhalla" conservatory.

Upon arrival Christopher was in his favourite spot inside "Valhalla" conservatory.

Christopher was born in Devonshire and fondly refers to himself as a "Devonshire Dumpling" he studied architecture in London and has a post graduate diploma in the conservation of historic buildings. He tells me he is a master of all trades and a jack of none, to which I say he is a great artist - he immediately corrects me saying "never call me an artist, it is too heavy a title. Call me an illustrator". 

 "never call me an artist, it is too heavier a title, call me an illustrator"

 "never call me an artist, it is too heavier a title, call me an illustrator"

Christopher was the site architect on No.10 Downing Street restoration he has also given restoration advice for Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.

A souvenir from his time at No.10 Downing Street, the bell box in the cabinet secarateries room.

A souvenir from his time at No.10 Downing Street, the bell box in the cabinet secarateries room.

Christopher gets up from his chair and goes to his vast library to retrieve a beautiful old book, inside of which he spends a wee while page-turning until he finds what he is after - an image of his souvenir in situ (the bell box)

Christopher gets up from his chair and goes to his vast library to retrieve a beautiful old book, inside of which he spends a wee while page-turning until he finds what he is after - an image of his souvenir in situ (the bell box)

In 1964 Christopher, his wife and four children emigrated to Nelson New Zealand where they "did the good life" living in Teal Valley with cows, sheep, goats and chickens. He tells me he "took up pottery to put a thin smear of magarine on a dry crust" 

“Inking is meditation in liquid form...”  ―  J.H. Everett ,  Izzy and the Candy Palace

“Inking is meditation in liquid form...” 
― J.H. EverettIzzy and the Candy Palace

Christopher talks openly about his sexuality. He tells me he has huge admiration for his wife whom he describes as a remarkable woman, but says that around 40 years ago he had to release the burden of carrying around a deeply buried secret: that he was gay. He revealed this to his wife and they divorced. She was able to remarry a wonderful man with Christopher remaining a good friend. Coming out as gay in the late 1960s - early 1970s was a big deal as homosexuality was still illegal. Christopher put himself to action, joined the gay rights coalition and helped decriminalise homosexuality.

Coming out as gay in the late 1960s - early 1970s was a big deal as homosexuality was still illegal.

Coming out as gay in the late 1960s - early 1970s was a big deal as homosexuality was still illegal.

Something that kept Christopher out of trouble along with illustration was writing - he wrote columns for newspapers such as The Sunday Star, Dominion and the Nelson Evening Mail. I remember his columns well as they were witty, insightful, informative and extremely popular. 

Just a few of the many collumns Christopher has written over his career for dozens of newspapers. 

Just a few of the many collumns Christopher has written over his career for dozens of newspapers. 

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra. He was punished for his self-aggrandising craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back down, repeating this action for eternity. ( Source ) The title is most likely a play on words...the laws of Sisyphus, which could be a joke that once you get your lawns perfect they simply need doing all over again. Christopher is great with word play. 

In Greek mythology Sisyphus was the king of Ephyra. He was punished for his self-aggrandising craftiness and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it come back down, repeating this action for eternity. (Source) The title is most likely a play on words...the laws of Sisyphus, which could be a joke that once you get your lawns perfect they simply need doing all over again. Christopher is great with word play. 

 

In 1992 Christopher published "Nelson Observed" one of my favourite books which contains hundreds of observational illustrations of the Nelson region with historic information.
Nelson Observed - Portraits of a New Zealand Province. Christopher B. Vine. 
Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to this fine book: 
 

Christopher Vine’s obsession with old buildings has been almost lifelong. He was the first architect to enrol in the Historic Buildings Conservation course set up by London University’s Institute of Archeology, and he worked on the propping up of various venerable piles around Britain. Feeling during the Cuba crisis that Europe was a less than an ideal place to raise four children, the family emigrated to New Zealand and settled in Nelson in 1964. The delightful Teal Valley, then sparsely occupied, has been his home ever since. He lives in a cottage reputedly built in 1845.
Shortly after arriving in Nelson the Provincial Building fiasco blew up. The unsuccessful attempt to save it rekindled the old building mania. He served on both the Broadgreen and Melrose commmitees, besides those of the Historic Places Trust, the Historical Society and the Suter Art Society, and was Trustee of the Suter Art Gallery for many years. More recently the Nelson Institute has been a focus of attention.
Between embellishing the several crumbling buildings and planting trees on his quasi-farm, he divides his time between writing, illustrating and most especially making things. Feeling that the description of our species as Homo Sapiens is a gross conceit, he prefers the term Homo Faber, Man the Maker.
Christopher's illustrational observations are finely detailed and very accurate recordings similar to the way life was documented in the period of history he so passionately enjoys. 

Christopher's illustrational observations are finely detailed and very accurate recordings similar to the way life was documented in the period of history he so passionately enjoys. 

Shortly after arriving in Nelson the Provincial Building fiasco blew up. The unsuccessful attempt to save it rekindled the old building mania - Nelson Observed. 

Shortly after arriving in Nelson the Provincial Building fiasco blew up. The unsuccessful attempt to save it rekindled the old building mania - Nelson Observed. 

"Jessica have you heard of   Dunane Flatmo ?  Remind me to talk to you about him. His work is amazing". Four hours later and we still had not got around to talking about him! A  nother day hopefully.

"Jessica have you heard of Dunane Flatmo? Remind me to talk to you about him. His work is amazing". Four hours later and we still had not got around to talking about him! Another day hopefully.

On the 15th December 1992 Christopher and his family suffered a great loss.  While in the late stages of pregnancy with a baby girl,  Christopher's daughter Alison and her unborn child passed away in hospital after battling an infection.  I remember Ali well, she often babysat my sister and me in Brook Street where she lived with her daughter Rhea.  Ali was the first person in my life, other than my great grandmother to die and I remember being rather disturbed by this along with the fact that my Mum didn't pick me up from school holiday camp to attend Alison's funeral. 

Christopher shows me the last gift he got from his daughter Alison before she died, a beautiful embroidered butterfly pillow. 

Christopher shows me the last gift he got from his daughter Alison before she died, a beautiful embroidered butterfly pillow. 

Historic photographs of Nelson Province adorn the walls of "The Palms" 

Historic photographs of Nelson Province adorn the walls of "The Palms" 

Brunching in "Valhalla" - Christophers delightful conservatory, where we discussed life, death and everything in between. 

Brunching in "Valhalla" - Christophers delightful conservatory, where we discussed life, death and everything in between. 

I think house-work is about one of the last things on Christopher's mind, but he does have a simple strategy to give visitors the impression he does think about it. What he explained to me was simple - Keep your vacuum cleaner out at all times, strategically placed for maximum exposure to visitors. This way you can say to them "Oh I was just about to vacuum" 

Keep your vacuum cleaner out all times, strategically placed for maximum exposure to visitors. This way you can say to them "Oh I was just about to vacuum"

Keep your vacuum cleaner out all times, strategically placed for maximum exposure to visitors. This way you can say to them "Oh I was just about to vacuum"

Christopher says he begins many a project but bores easily, so everything is unfinished.  "But this is untrue as evidenced by his beautiful murals adorning numerous buildings in New Zealand, not to mention his books and his many other achievements. Many people say that once one's house is finished, one has to move. Thankfully, Christopher has so many projects and creations on the go, this is like never to happen!" - Evelyn Davis   

Christopher says he begins many a project but bores easily, so everything is unfinished. "But this is untrue as evidenced by his beautiful murals adorning numerous buildings in New Zealand, not to mention his books and his many other achievements. Many people say that once one's house is finished, one has to move. Thankfully, Christopher has so many projects and creations on the go, this is like never to happen!" - Evelyn Davis  

The office of the creative illustrator, shows evidence of numerous projects still in the middle of the creative process. 

The office of the creative illustrator, shows evidence of numerous projects still in the middle of the creative process. 

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.”  ―  Marcus Tullius Cicero

“A room without books is like a body without a soul.” 
― Marcus Tullius Cicero

Another cause that Christopher strongly supports is Voluntary Euthenasia - particularly of older people. He is also a member of the U3A (University of the 3rd Age) which is a group of retired people who want to do something different with their time and mind. The U3A is all over New Zealand and the Nelson group of over 300 members enjoy get-togethers for interesting activities and adventures. 

Christopher is a man who is strong in his beliefs - supporting Voluntary Euthanasia, and Gay Rights groups. “During your struggle society is not a bunch of flowers, it is a bunch of cactus.”  ―  Amit Kalantri ,  Wealth of Words

Christopher is a man who is strong in his beliefs - supporting Voluntary Euthanasia, and Gay Rights groups.
“During your struggle society is not a bunch of flowers, it is a bunch of cactus.” 
― Amit KalantriWealth of Words

I love visiting "The Palms" - (named by the previous women who lived there) is such a treasure trove of odds and ends, bits and pieces, junk and treasures. Fourteen years ago when he brought it, Christopher said the place was "bulldozer food, nobody wanted it" but with the help of student job search workers he renovated it - Christopher style of course, this was not your everyday renovation. Whenever he saw an abandoned or demolished building he flew in like a magpie and enquired about the left over "rubbish" which he relieved people of. Thus he acquired an eclectic mix (mostly for free) of intriguing materials and embellishments and has incorporated these doors, windows, alcotraves, timber in delightful ways. One's eye is never short of something to gaze upon. 

 "The Palms" - a treasure trove of odds and ends, bits and pieces, junk and treasures.

 "The Palms" - a treasure trove of odds and ends, bits and pieces, junk and treasures.

Jessies Hus (Jessie's House) 

Jessies Hus (Jessie's House) 

When you have a mind like Christopher does Im sure you would go through the cryptic crosswords too!

When you have a mind like Christopher does Im sure you would go through the cryptic crosswords too!

A nice shady spot to relax and do some crosswords

A nice shady spot to relax and do some crosswords

Artwork adorns every square inch of "The Palms". The home is a visual delight

Artwork adorns every square inch of "The Palms". The home is a visual delight

The property at "The Palms" contains many a little resting spot or cubby hole/hide out, so it is now an adventurous location for children and adults alike.  One of his resting places/projects is "Crystal Palace" made from bricks which were brought out on the boat Fifeshire, a ship that was wrecked in the Nelson Harbour in 1842. The bricks were salvaged and used to build a cottage in Domett Street and are now a part of a little space where Christopher likes to drink gin and tonic in the evenings. 

"Crystal Palace" made from bricks which were brought out on the boat Fifeshire that was wrecked.

"Crystal Palace" made from bricks which were brought out on the boat Fifeshire that was wrecked.

A little space where Christopher likes to drink gin and tonic in the evenings.

A little space where Christopher likes to drink gin and tonic in the evenings.

The garden at "The Palms" contains many a little resting spot or cubby hole/hide out, it is an adventurous location for children and adults alike.

The garden at "The Palms" contains many a little resting spot or cubby hole/hide out, it is an adventurous location for children and adults alike.

Christopher and I both love doors.   “Be an opener of doors”  ―  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Christopher and I both love doors. 

“Be an opener of doors” 
― Ralph Waldo Emerson

The main bedroom lies unused, instead the small room behind it with a little single bed deep  amongst boxes and bits and pieces appears to be the preferred bedroom. 

The main bedroom lies unused, instead the small room behind it with a little single bed deep  amongst boxes and bits and pieces appears to be the preferred bedroom. 

The kitchen bursting with colour.

The kitchen bursting with colour.

We enjoyed lunch outside together over stories of Christopher's past in Britain. 

We enjoyed lunch outside together over stories of Christopher's past in Britain. 

Everywhere you look there is a little bit of magic!

Everywhere you look there is a little bit of magic!

Christopher's house is like a museum or curios shop: a place where you could spend hours at just viewing the delightfully decorated walls. 

Christopher's house is like a museum or curios shop: a place where you could spend hours at just viewing the delightfully decorated walls. 

Mark Westcott, an old friend.

Mark Westcott, an old friend.

Christopher shows me pictures from his past filled with memories.

Christopher shows me pictures from his past filled with memories.

This is a man with an infinite abundance of rich and glorious stories to tell, and he tells them so well. Thank you. 

I finish Christopher's interview with one last question:  "What would your Epitath read?" I ask "Enough." 

Special thanks to,

Christopher Vine and Evelyn Davis