Couple bring diverse skills to arts tour

Dot and Barry Harding with samples of their work – one of Dot’s framed patchworks and some of Barry’s wooden garden ornaments.

Dot and Barry Harding are a rare married couple among the artists listed on the Autumn Festival’s Cambridge Open Studios Art Tour this weekend.

The tour isn’t the only occasion Barry’s woodwork and Dot’s patchwork and quilting are seen together.  Visitors to Barry’s home-based Woodcraft Gallery brush up against Dot’s workspace, and the reverse is true for those calling into Dot’s studio.  Special pieces fill their home, and together they’ve covered miles carting Barry’s pieces to craft fairs. Every now and then, they fuse the two, with Barry making frames for some of Dot’s finished patchwork pictures, and Dot’s daughter helping Barry out in the workshop.

“We work as a team,” Barry said. “There’s no doubt that without Dot, I wouldn’t have been able to build up my woodworking to the level it is now.”

They’re as busy as bees, but neither is keen to pass up a challenge. Barry has worked with timber for most of his life, taking up woodturning as a hobby only after he retired. Now, he makes a range of practical and artistic items, many of them one-offs that he has made when people have asked him to craft things he initially thought might be near impossible. An unusual shepherd’s crook is just one example, made for a neighbouring Englishman who stumbled across Barry on his daily walks.

The beautiful shepherd’s crook similar to that Barry made for a neighbour, and one of the spoons he makes for Hobbiton.

The Hardings have another claim to fame. He makes unique and imaginative pieces for Hobbiton – spoons, platters, table ornaments, trays, candlesticks and more – despite the fact he has never read the books and insists he never will.

“They’re just not for me,” he smiled.  Dot, who knows them backwards, filled him in on the details.

Barry’s pieces have become part of the Hobbiton landscape, so much so that he’s on an almost speed-dial basis for any replacements or anything new that pops up.

Dot has also contributed her talents to Hobbiton. “They built a shop out the back,” she said. “Barry did a lot of the woodwork and I was asked to make a few quilts to go in the shop.”

Despite taking up patchwork only after the loss of her first husband in 1990, Dot’s work has earned accolades. In 2015 she was named a finalist in a major Australasian quilting competition, the AQC Challenge, with her entry Picasso Blue. It replicated a cubist portrait of Pablo Picasso and was toured around craft and quilt fairs across Australia and New Zealand. That will be among the quilts, wall hangings and framed patchwork pieces she will display during the art tour.

Late last year, a handmade Christmas quilt of Dot’s and a rimu tray of Barry’s were auctioned off in aid of the Plastic Bag Free Cambridge collective. Dot is a member and has made over 1000 intricate bags for the cause.

Barry said his focus for this year’s art studio tour would be his garden art pieces – quirky items that like most of his stuff start off experimental and end up splendid.

The Hardings will be at 18 De La Mare Drive from 10am to 4pm today (March 23) and tomorrow (March 24).

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