The sofa of Days Track
Sofa so good - a community art project
It’s a steep climb up Days Track in Nelson. The track starts at Rocks Road and the first section runs to Grenville Terrace, the second section to Moana Avenue and the third section continues on to emerge at Princes Drive. On the second section of the track can be found a remarkable community project, a stunning mosaic chaise lounge/sofa. Aptly named ”Sofa so Good” it invites you to take a rest after your energetic climb to pause and enjoy the stunning view over Tasman Bay and Tahunanui.
This mid section of Days track was washed out in December 2011, during a severe flooding incident affecting many parts of Nelson, and the popular short cut was closed to the public. Local residents were concerned that this section of the track would not reopen, as several years had passed and no work had commenced to reinstate it. A local lobby group, Days Track Group, was formed. To everyone’s relief Nelson City Council finally agreed for work to commence on the major rebuild in 2016.
An opening celebration was planned for 2017 and the Days Track Group felt it would fitting to create an artwork, as a permanent reminder of a journey that had bought so many people closer together. A mosaic project was favoured, and resident Ellie Fijn enthusiastically suggested that a sofa would be a practical and unique memorial. A site for an ordinary seat had been included in Council’s plan and the sofa could take its place. The Council was supportive of this exciting amendment to their plan, and covered off Resource Consent requirements. Engineer David Light was particularly helpful and accommodating with the logistics of ensuring the site was suitable for the sofa, and that the sofa could be safely moved to the site once the track work was complete.
To create such a large sculptural, yet functional, art work was a huge challenge that was going to need all the talents and energy of the neighbourhood. Ellie Fijn, an experienced mosaic artist, took the lead as project manager. Professional artist Colleen Dallimore took on the major task of creating the concept and drawing up the design. She had majored in sculpture for her Fine Arts degree and in recent years had served on Council's Public Art selection committee. She was familiar with Council’s Art Strategy, and knew how well this project would fit with the City to Sea vision.
Colleen walked the area and the track many times mulling over the design. She wanted to create a kaleidoscope of memories, with images that mixed and overlaid in time and space. Nothing too literal or structured, but the sort of experience a person would have looking around as they walked along. The elements of the city on the back of the sofa include the cathedral, the traditional early heart of the city, including layers such as the Gothic tower and the church steps memorial. The historic lamp post is offset with the modern hanging baskets of Trafalgar Street. Also on the back of the sofa are images of houses, reminiscent of local houses of a bygone era seen on your journey up from the city, over the hill, and to the track. Delightful tiny details of people and pets remind the viewer that this is a community. The name “Sofa so good” is proudly emblazoned on the end of the sofa.
The front and seat of the sofa capture some of the views from the Tahuna hills, including the curve of the bay, the eddies and currents, the panorama of the hills across the bay, the historic Rocks Road chains and Fifeshire Rock. The towering pohutakawa curves over the arm of the sofa and local native plants and birds can be found.
The design concept was painstakingly drawn full size by Colleen and modified to fit over the three dimensional form. It was coloured as a guide to the artists creating the mosaic. The pattern was laid flat again and transferred onto the mesh that the artists would attach the tiles to. It was then cut up into non-linear segments to be worked on by the group of volunteer mosaic artists.
As the project was too large for one person to mosaic, and putting mosaic directly onto the sofa on site was not an option, using multiple artists broke it into a realistic work load, time frame and health and safety plan. When all the individual pieces were complete they were to be attached to the sofa on site. Mosaic artists included Ellie Fijn, Barbara Spencer, Susanne Williamson, Colleen Dallimore, Esther Sassenburg, Esther Bauman, Lindsay Twiname, Kay Switzer, Susan Panell and Anna Hickman.
While the mosaics were being created a sturdy armature was built using wire netting over an existing sofa frame with layers of concrete plastered over it. It took a lot of concrete to give it the required strength and the top surface needed to be relatively smooth and even for attaching mosaic tiles. This heavy work was a real physical workout for the team, who attacked it with gusto, during the rather heavy rainfalls at the time. Finally lifting the very heavy and bulky chaise up into position was a job managed by Fulton Hogan for Council. The delicate operation used an 8.5 tonne digger to manoeuvre it into place.
Putting all the individual pieces of mosaic on mesh together was a challenge. Securing tiles of desired colours and tones was often a compromise that had to be accepted, while everyone tried to adhere to the existing concept and keep the colours flowing - Ellie tackled managing the enormous onsite task of getting the segments to physically merge in a seamless way. Because the sofa is a three dimensional object, getting each segment to join together required tiles to be added or removed. The artists were kept busy. Ellie’s studio, close to the track, was the command centre to gather the segments together ready for the innumerable trips up and down to the sofa site. More volunteers who said they weren’t creative, carefully wiped excess glue and grout from all the pieces, and others fed the workers to keep their energy up. As with all work on this project, it was the strength of the team that kept everyone going.
Financial support came from Nelson City Council, Creative Communities Local Funding Scheme, Mitre 10 Mega, and local residents who all made a cash contribution. Tile Direct were generous with product support, and donations of time and product came from the wider community.
The track and the artwork were officially opened to the public on 3 September 2017.
Anna Hickman recorded the creation of the art work in a documentary. A link to this will be attached to this story when it is released for public viewing.
Updated March 2021
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Further sources - The sofa of Days Track
- Clarke, V. (2017, September 13) Mosaic couch is a gesture of thanks by Nelson mosaic artists. Nelson Mail on Stuff:
- Sivignon, C. (2017, September 3) Reinstated days track officially opens on Tahunanui hills at Nelson. Nelson Mail on Stuff: