Suzanne Sturrock: A Domestic Artist – Palagi Tivaivai


You could walk past Suzanne Sturrock in the supermarket and nothing about her appearance would give you any clue to her multi-dimensional talent and ability. Just another older or retired woman, someone’s Mother, someone’s Grandmother.   But, how wrong you’d be and how disconcerting it could be to discover exactly who she is and what she has previously been and done.

If you walked past Suzanne in the supermarket you wouldn’t realize that this is someone with a professional background of theatre costuming; a professional designer; the founding teacher and tutor of what is now a degree course in Costume Technology at a major Auckland tertiary institution. A talented and commercially successful sculptural clay artist and clay tutor.   And she’s so matter of fact about it all.

Suzanne Sturrock creative

I meet Suzanne Sturrock because I know her adult daughter; also creative and talented. “Go and have a look at her pieces in the exhibition….” so I do and am introduced to Suzanne’s sculptural glazed works.   It’s not what many would think of when they hear the word “pottery exhibition”. It’s design and sculpture using clay.     The large, three-dimensional shapes and bowls glow.  

It’s the daughter who tells me about the Pasifika-themed fabric and fibre creativity: she sends me an image; she tells me the story of “Palagi Tivaivai”.   When I decide to write a series on mature women creatives to acknowledge International Women’s Day 2019 I want to start with Suzanne Sturrock.

It’s a blistering Bay of Plenty summer morning when I go to the Sturrock property.   Planetarium clear sky and heat. There’s a large floral couch on the front lawn and a tall ceramic sculpture adjacent to the stairs of the flower and shrub-filled house frontage.

A ceramic totem stands at the front of the house

I think how weird it is that the couch has been brought outside – it’ll be too hot for me to be in the sun for more than three minutes.   It’s only when I take a closer look I see that it’s actually a large, mosaic-covered sculpture.   It’s gleaming in the sun but the cushions are crumpled soft. It’s unbelievably perfect.

There’s a small gate at the top of the stairs, not to keep me out, but to keep the small, photogenic dog in.  From the second you step over the threshold you’re in a totally different world. It’s visually vibrant; curated pieces of art and sculpture; sculpture and work in progress and what I’ve come to see: the Palagi Tivaivai and other unbelievable fibre and fabric creativity. This home is like the most beautifully presented gallery – but it’s all totally livable and usable.  

We sit at the vintage wrought iron dining table – a collector’s dream refurbished by Suzanne. Large, colourful cups and an appropriately rose-embellished teapot appear.     And we converse.   This isn’t an “interview”, this is a conversation.   But I ask Suzanne how she categorises her creativity: “domestic arts”.

Morning tea

She was the “creative one” – always doing stuff.   Suzanne is not at all sure that at the time this was a positive comparative description but I think her Mother was perceptive and assessed her child with awesome reality.   It was on one of those now “vintage” family treadle sewing machines that Suzanne began her creative and career pathway. And there was knitting and the passions of school cooking, sewing and French.

Screen printing – Suzanne says “she has a huge portfolio of fabric-oriented skills”. Which eventually leads to a job at Auckland’s Mercury Theatre as a theatre machinist – think creating everything you could possibly imagine for those live theatre productions. The diploma (and then degree) course initiated by Suzanne wasn’t theoretical but practical and technical – how to make the garments. It was a course for artisans. A satisfying career phase.  

It’s after she left this tertiary teaching role that Suzanne began what she describes as a potentially “expensive hobby”. Fortunately her work is in demand.   There’s a large bowl-shape in the process of construction. It’s “laborious and takes an unbelievable amount of work…”   There’s a work with raw, unfired glaze (not yet worthy of an image I’m told). There are two shelves and tables of finished, glazed pieces waiting to be assembled into her totem constructions.

Work in progress

Beautiful finished pieces fill the shelves

She runs through a basic beginning to end “how it’s made” narrative.   With all the opportunities for creative disaster I’m amazed so much makes it to finality.   I ask if she sells “seconds” – “the hammer is your friend”.  

Suzanne wants to show me her favourite piece: it’s not what I expected – but from such an adventurous creative, I really should have done. It’s a shape that looks as if it exploded out of Whakaari-White Island and Suzanne uses “volcanic” as a description. It’s black and brown and blistered and rough and smooth and that’s what she loves – texture, form.

Suzanne’s favourite piece of work

It’s such a contrast to much of her smooth and colourfully shiny work on display. While she’s talking I notice her hands – they flutter, fly and communicate with me as much as her voice.

Creative communicator

Total expression

In addition to this personal clay creativity Suzanne is a regular tutor at the Bethlehem Potters’ night classes.   I wonder if the night class students have the slightest idea of the background and talent of the slight, short-haired, unassuming looking woman leading them through the exploration of clay and themselves.   She tells me the course is not teaching people to be potters; it’s an introduction to the magic of clay and creation.   There’s a lengthy waiting list.  

There’s a gothic-shaped, mosaic-covered cupboard. It’s not her work and when Suzanne mentions the artist’s name I start my “is she related to…” and the whole smaller-Auckland, inner-suburbs and Grammar history starts to domino.   “And that’s her painting….”  

The process of creating the garden-art mosaic couch is explained. “I drew the designs on my ipad” It echoes the strong Pasifika pattern and vibrancy of Suzanne’s home furnishing and design. I can’t believe the amount of ongoing work and absolute dedication to completion that was involved in transforming her much loved couch into the final artwork. It took three years to finish. Suzanne laughingly describes the work-trestle permanently on the verandah area for that time.

Enticingly soft mosaic cushion

The use of floral pattern and colour also adorns the floors of Suzanne’s self-designed dwelling. There’s a floral rag rug in the dining area – made by her.   In the bedroom area, rolled up to fit her down-sized space is a long, vibrant hall-runner.   That’s what it was – the hall runner from another self-designed, former home.   I’m shown her design book with the preliminary, detailed design; it’s also an art work.

The design book

Again, she’s so matter of fact about the amount of work and length of time taken to complete the five metre, painstaking, disciplined creative project. Suzanne tells me she had a rule “20 minutes a day…but I’d do more if it was raining – I could sit all day…”

Another amazing creative project

The huge Tivaivai-style bedspread screams “summer”.   Suzanne says she developed her particular fabric collage and embroidery style on smaller pieces such as cushions before embarking on the huge creative projects of large and decorative bedspreads.

Creative contrast

She explains her version of the traditional Polynesian fabric quilting and embroidery craft. Again the amount of planning, preparation and then effort is outlined. There’s the detailed diagram. Cardboard pattern pieces and then deciding where the shapes will be placed on the background/supporting fabric – a queen-sized sheet.  

Vibrant summer colours

Not all the work is by hand but the attachment process is still time-consuming and requires the same level of discipline, dedication and patience evident in all other aspects of her creative work.   Once attached, there’s the finishing and embroidery.   (If you look at the mosaic couch you’ll see that it almost replicates the detail of Suzanne’s Tivaivai).

An art and creativity filled space

It’s Tivaivai because it references Pasifika style and design. It’s Palagi Tivaivai because it’s not strictly Pacific-traditional in style and construction. Her daughter has previously told me how a young Polynesian neighbour wanted Suzanne to instruct her in “Palagi Tivaivai” – the circle of creativity continuing.

How did she start? It’s like the sophisticated sculptural clay art – “I went to a workshop”.   Who would ever guess just walking past this mature woman her significant professional history as an arts educator, the breadth of her creative talent and the personal determination and discipline of her creative arts practice.   I found it inspirational. And the most inspiring fact I left with – Suzanne’s consistent involvement in sharing all aspects of her professional background and creative talent.

Suzanne Sturrock’s work can be seen and purchased at The Little Gallery Tairua

Bethlehem Pottery Club website

There is a lengthy waiting list to participate in the introductory pottery classes which take place at the Bethlehem Pottery Club.   If you want further information you can contact:

Bayclay is the Club’s public exhibition of it’s award winning work.   There is an independent judge for each exhibition.   The next Bayclay exhibition will be in November 2019.  

Cook Island Resources video: Tivaivai: the art of patience

Rosemary Balu.           Rosemary Balu is the founding and current Managing Editor of ARTbop. Rosemary has arts and law degrees from the University of Auckland. She has been a working lawyer and has participated in a wide variety of community activities where information gathering, submission writing, community advocacy and education have been involved. Interested in all forms of the arts since childhood Rosemary is focused on further developing and expanding multi-media ARTbop as the magazine for all the creative arts in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

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Winners of the 2019 Molly Morpeth Canaday Award –  John Brown, Teresa HR Lane, Danae Ripley, Lea-Anne Sheather, Esther Deans, Raewyn Martin, Adrienne Millwood, Kirsten Ferguson, Nicola McCafferty, Toby George King, Sena Park, and Mary Duggan.

Read all about the award results below, and please come along to see the exhibition in person at Te Kōputu a te whanga a Toi – Whakatāne Library and Exhibition Centre if you are able. Open 9am-5pm on weekdays, and 10am-2pm on weekends.
Remember – you can also help to select a winner – vote for the People’s Choice Award at the gallery!

With our exhibition partners, Arts Whakatāne and Whakatane Museum and Arts.
#Whakatane #MMCA #PaintingandDrawing #NZArtAward


Mega World The Expansive Universe of Illustration    23 February – 7 July 2019
Explore the expansive universe of illustration with the Tauranga Art Gallery’s signature 2019 show, Mega World. You’ll be transported to unknown landscapes populated by strange creatures and unlikely heroes.
Shown across all five exhibition spaces you’ll experience contemporary illustration in its many forms. From picture books and comics, the sophisticated realms of science fiction and the graphic novel to the more avant-garde work of underground illustration, animation and contemporary art.
While illustration covers many genres, its essential premise is that it is the visual manifestation of a text, concept or process rendered in a way that captures the imagination and gives form to the intangible.
Mega World has something for everyone and kicks off this Saturday with the opening of Anti-heroes: The Art of Conscious Comic Book Artists
TAURANGA ART GALLERY 108 WILLOW STREET, DOWNTOWN TAURANGA  10am to 4.30pm daily  Phone 578 7933


Exhibitions change regularly in the Carlton Gallery and the Gallery is available to be hired for your show of work. (if you’re interested in exhibiting contact details are below)

The Arts Junction is open Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm and 10am to 2pm Saturdays and Sundays. Located at 36 Main Road, Kati Kati   (next to the Western Bay of Plenty Museum) Phone 549 5250 or email                


Artist Paul Herbert showing at the Carlton Gallery until 17th March 2019.  Opening on the 18th March 2019 for two weeks at the Carlton Gallery, the Tauranga Porcelain Artists are presenting an Exhibition of their style of Art. There will be displays of Traditional work as well as more Modern Designs. 

Contemporary porcelain painting …


From 3698 competition entries, the 20 winning images are now showcased in the third annual Trustpower Photographic Exhibition!    Come and see the breathtaking winning images, presented on large-scale display boards in the Bay’s largest outdoor photographic exhibition. It’s on right now on The Strand, in Downtown Tauranga until 14 April 2019


Developed as a community gallery and retail space with lots of hard work and effort  by local creatives, the Atrium Gallery is open 11am to 5pm Wednesday to Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday.

  If you have information about an upcoming arts event, exhibition or arts news you can contact ARTbop at


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