Necessity the mother of success

Houhora resident Sheree Wagener faced a problem familiar to many when she became a mother. She wanted to be at home with daughter India but she also needed to make a living.

Her solution was unique - and is now about to give her undreamed of exposure on the other side of the world.

Sheree's "fairy furniture" has captured the attention of jewellery company Goldsmiths of England, which in the past has worked with the likes of David Beckham and Leonardo DiCaprio (and crafted the Webb Ellis Cup), and has now chosen art created on the Aupouri Peninsula for the backdrop to its autumn photographic ad campaign.

The images will be displayed at all 120 Goldsmiths stores throughout England, the kind of advertising that Sheree said could not be bought.

No one who knows Sheree would be surprised she is making her name in fairy furniture, but her pending international success has not been of the overnight variety. She said she had been making her minuscule furniture "forever", initially as playthings for India.

It featured on her blog a few times, however, which was how Goldsmiths discovered it.

"They literally Googled 'fairy furniture' and found my page," she said, although initially she thought the email was a joke.

"It was a bit surreal at first. We assume we are so small here in the Far North, so getting that recognition that my art was the best in the world for them is unreal," she said.

The furniture is made from materials supplied by nature, the likes of moss, seed pods and dried petals.

Sheree said she liked natural resources, the magic of being "given stuff" from nature, and using things that people normally walked past.

Now people have begun giving her boxes full of things they have gathered for her to create with, and India quite often came home with feathers and moss.

"She's very helpful, and loves the collecting part," she added.

Meanwhile, Sheree has plans to capitalise on the new market her work is about to be exposed to. She will be attending the Grey Lynn festival in Auckland in November, where she will sell her work, she's updated her website ( and is planning a photographic book about fairy furniture.

Like breathing

The 34-year-old one-time Kaitaia College student said she had always been interested in art.

"I've always been creative and artistic," she said. "I remember gathering bits from the beach when I was little and creating things. Creating is breathing for me."

With secondary school behind her she moved to Auckland. Unsure about what she wanted to do, she enrolled for night classes at AUT (photography, screen printing), which led to her completing a fabric design course.

She went on to complete a degree in fashion design, working for Pacific Renaissance after graduating, making costumes for the TV shows Hercules and Xena Warrior Princess.

The best part of that job was that she got to make things at home with materials people left behind, in the process learning to work with a wide range of materials and tools, including fire-retardant materials, dye work and heat guns.

After a year of that her longing for the country life took over and she returned to the Far North in 2000 "to start anew".

She opened a shop in Kaitaia (Shag), selling both second-hand pieces and her own clothing designs, and established a client base there and at the local markets, but a year on she "got the itch again", so bought a van and set off to travel the country, wwoofing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) before embarking on her OE, in Thailand, Italy and England.

"I got a lot of artistic inspiration from my travels, especially in Italy," she said, but once again the time came to head home.

Sheree and her partner Kelly settled into a caravan without power or water, taking on orchard work to make ends meet.

And then she began creating and selling her art online, primarily as a matter of necessity.

"I had a daughter and needed to be at home and make that profitable," she said.

"I made a website so I could stay at home and still sell stuff."

She also sells her wares on the international art website; "99 per cent of my customers live overseas, mainly in the the US".

Sheree also writes a blog on her website, which has had many followers over the years, where she details her artistic journey and which she describes as an important outlet for her creativity.

"I love writing and sharing and connecting with people. It helps with the isolation of living in the Far North," she said.

She also organises children's fairy parties and designs weddings and events.

"I am fulfilling my dream of being able to create from my home and still reach the world. I love it. I am living my dream," she said.

- Northland Age

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