Model maker extraordinaire on festival arts tour

Eric Hill and the largest of his models – Abel Tasman’s vessel, the Heemskerck.

Twelve meticulously crafted model ships and boats made by local man Eric Hill will be on view as part of this month’s Cambridge Autumn Festival. He is among almost 30 local artists or groups who will open their home-based galleries to the public for the festival’s Cambridge Open Studios tour.

The vessels he will display include the Avon and the Koheroa – two with historical links to Cambridge and the Waikato River – and the 2.5 metre Heemskerck, one of two of Abel Tasman’s vessels that sailed into New Zealand waters in late 1642.  Another model is of the HMS Bounty, the 18th Century merchant vessel associated with the mutiny involving Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian.

The Heemskerck is his largest and took over four years to complete. It is an extraordinarily detailed scale replica of the ship; photographs Eric sent back to the Dutch museum that furnished him with the plans elicited a positive response.

“They were very impressed,” he said.

The other hat Eric wears is that of chairperson of the Cambridge Heritage Charitable Trust. In that capacity, he is helping drive a multi-million-dollar upgrade to the Cambridge Museum; it is also a role that fits well with the melding of history and model-making he describes as a particularly satisfying aspect of his hobby.  Eric started model-making in earnest about 15 years ago, applying technical and drafting skills he had acquired at school. He soon found it was boats that captured his real interest, more so those of historical significance.

Eric’s model of HMS Bounty reveals details of the ship’s interior.

Explaining his decision to craft the Heemskerck, he said: “I have always felt that Abel Tasman has been under-acknowledged in New Zealand. Perhaps because of our British colonial heritage, Captain Cook was given all the kudos, but nearly 100 years before that Abel Tasman had been every bit as bold in his exploration of New Zealand.”

After struggling to extract detailed information on Tasman’s travels from New Zealand museums, he contacted a museum in Holland. “They were tremendously helpful. I had all the ship’s plans sent through online within 24 hours … it was as though all my Christmasses had come at once.”

Tackling the intricacies of building the models is something Eric views as an escape from the business world in which he has been involved throughout his working life. “It requires a different form of patience and problem-solving … plus I’ve learnt an awful lot about things like polymers, plastic castings and how to read plans!”

Some of the models are made from imported kits, and he uses a range of different woods and sometimes clay in the model-making process. Often, however, it is the rigging that proves to be the most challenging part of the build.

Looking ahead, Eric plans to continue making the models, but reckons he’s likely to stick to boats with historical reference to this area.

Details of the Open Studios tours are on the website: cambridgeautumnfestival.co.nz.

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