It started with the great shed war of 1993. The welder versus the glass artist.
Both were trying to work from the one shed in a pocket of Mark Anstey’s Castlemaine front yard.
One clean, quiet and peaceful, the other all sparks and clatter.
They had to be separated, so Mark built another shed. As the years progressed, so did the outbuildings, and eventually, public arts space Lot 19 began.
Now, 26 artists industriously, peacefully, work here, in separate studios built from what would otherwise be junk and clutter.
“I like the recycled ethos, I see it as one way to preserve our future for a little bit longer,” Mark says.
“I’m dedicated to using as much recycled materials as I can.”
Mark says Lot 19 is an oasis.
“It’s a little arts oasis. It’s kind of a safe zone. The tenants have a place to work that’s safe and cheap and they’re surrounded by like-minded people.
“They’re kind of rebels in a way, artists, because it’s hard.
“I can’t imagine what life would be like without them.”
The mix of people at Lot 19 includes potters, painters, photographers, sculptors, a music teacher, a publishing house, an instrument maker and Mark himself – a furniture maker and boat builder by trade.
“Some people are quite famous internationally while others are just emerging,” he says.
In the main gallery we meet Bill Sampson, of Guildford.
He’s setting up a display for this weekend’s Arts Open, a three-day open studios and galleries event that’s fast become a must-do on the Castlemaine festival calendar.
Lot 19 is joining with more than 70 open studios, exhibitions and workshops taking place in the town.
For Bill, it’s a chance to show the punters the process of how he works.
The nation saw his finished product last week when two of Bill’s artworks were chosen by contestants on The Block to feature in a hotel room reno.
Bill says while he’d never seen The Block – while he doesn’t even own a telly – he loved that his works were chosen for the competition.
“I like people to look at it and that includes everybody,” he says.
“They had to build a room around the artwork.”
He laughed that there should be more of it.
Helen Bodycomb says she’ll tidy her studio up a little, vacuum the floor, in anticipation of welcoming more than 300 art lovers into her space today and tomorrow.
Helen, a mosaic artist, is Lot 19’s longest continuous resident.
“It’s such a lovely place to come and work every day,” she says.
Helen trained at an Italian mosaic school and is one of Australia’s foremost teachers and practitioners of the art form. She has enjoyed artist residencies in many of the world’s beautiful places, but says there’s nowhere like Lot 19.
“I think that’s because Mark hasn’t modelled it on another entity,” she says.
“He’s allowed it to grow in an organic way, so it’s stayed true to its roots. It’s honest.”
It’s certainly working.
Next year will mark Lot 19’s 10th anniversary as a public arts space.
Mark is proud of the fact it’s self-sufficient. There’s no grant monies needed to prop it up. It runs on hard work, ingenuity and something else that’s hard to grasp.
Sculptor Nici Wright certainly understands this place’s special magic. It was enough to make her pack up her worldly goods and relocate from south-east Queensland two years ago.
She came to Castlemaine purely because of Lot 19.
“At the time I had no idea Castlemaine was the arts capital of Victoria,” Nici says.
She says being part of this collective of artists has opened up many opportunities. And it’s influencing her work.
Right now she’s sculpting a horse from 100-year-old fencing wire.
“A dear old man from Walmer had the wire in his paddock and he keeps dropping me batches of it,” she says.
One of the lot’s newest tenants is Helene Athanasiadis, archaeologist by name, photographer by nature.
“My first voluntary excavation as an undergraduate student was at a site nearby in Vaughan – it related to the Chinese settlement of the region,” she says on her past life.
Later Helene worked on the Calder upgrade, searching for and documenting the remains of human activity.
That was ten years ago. She stayed in Castlemaine while working and thought back then, what a beautiful place it would be to live.
Now she’s back piecing her new environment together, picture by precious picture fragment.
“There’s a lot of antiquity in my photos, a lot of decay. I take an archaeological approach in the reassembly of my photographs as well,” she says.
Mark says the 26 people here are special people.
“It’s a great life,” he says, on sharing it with them.
“It’s a very fortunate life.
“I’ve got the best front yard in the world.”
Among the medley of studios and performance spaces there is a boat, which once served the salty fishermen of Hastings.
It’s dubbed The Good Ship Savannah, for the life-sized barbed wire rhino sculpture by local artist John Veeken, suspended between its masts.
This seems a random place for a vessel of the sea, forever landlocked in Castlemaine. Same could be said for the boat builder who also lives here.
“It’s dry,” says Mark.
“I’m here for the culture.
“But it’s not a dry country culture, it’s a culture that’s worked for.”
Come and see it for yourself at Lot 19 this weekend, or at any of the galleries and studios taking part in Arts Open. For details, go to www.artsopen.com.au/arts-open-events
For information on exhibitions, gigs and performances at Lot 19 throughout the year, go to www.lot19art.com