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A ditty we sang as kids went "If you go down to the woods today / you’re sure of a big surprise. / If you go down to the woods today / you’d better go in disguise.
It was, of course, The Teddy Bears’ Picnic. The lyrics, written in 1932 by Jimmy Kennedy, take on a new significance if one goes down to the woods in Hanmer Forest, where a series of creatures can be found along the 1km Forest Amble walk.
They are the work of Andrew Lyons, of Heathcote Valley in Christchurch. Lyons describes himself as a "shape maker" rather than an artist or sculptor. His forest creations are realistic. They include a Labrador that sends real dogs into a barking frenzy, a giant falcon, a tree hugger, tree-climbing possums and a fantail.
Lyons carved his works from a giant redwood that had to be removed from the Hanmer Springs thermal pools complex. The tree was taken over by the Hanmer Heritage Forest Trust. Funding was sourced from Pub Charity (and others) and the project was supported by stakeholders Ngai Tahu and Rayonier Matariki Forests.
The circular Forest Amble walk takes about 30 minutes to complete, but will take longer when pausing to appreciate Lyons’ work. He has included several sculpted mushrooms that are ideal to sit upon when resting. The final sculpture is a striking fantail. Many people miss this one.
A chorus of abundant bird life provides a pleasing accompaniment while walking or resting. Forest Amble and connecting trails are also popular with mountain bikers.
Lyons, who has held many jobs — from a postie to TVNZ set builder — describes himself as "a fiddler", someone who needs to be creative and stay busy. When younger (he is in his early 70s) he would walk around Banks Peninsula sourcing fallen trees and driftwood washed up on beaches — he would never, he says, cut down a living tree for the sake of his creations.
When I caught up with Lyons, he showed me a large section of redwood he was about to begin work on. The finished sculpture will be of a tuatara sitting on top of a tree log. He showed me a clay model of it, an artwork in itself.
His gallery, at 22 Station Rd, Heathcote, is a virtual Aladdin’s Cave packed with creations. A fish with scales made from bottle caps caught my attention as did a banjo made from a large cake tin found in a market. Many items are carved from wood, including a ukulele, which my host played a tune on.
It’s well worth a visit.
Heathcote Valley Gallery