Saturday, 16 January 2021


Emotional farewell as Moko closes after 18 years

Eighteen years ago, Simon Buchanan and Sonya Corlett made a decision to open an art gallery with no idea of the journey that lay ahead. This week they will close that same gallery - Moko Artspace in Hot Water Beach - once again without too many plans for the future, their solitary goal, for now, to spend more time together.

The couple, both artists in their own right, have been overwhelmed with messages of support since they announced they would be shutting their doors for good this Friday, 12 June. It’s bittersweet and there has been little time to fully process the decision, but they are confident it is the right one.

“Lots of people have asked us those questions, one lady even said she was going to start a petition to prevent us closing, but when you go back to those reasons why we made the decision, it’s the same - it’s about health and wellbeing and having more time to spend together,” says Sonya.

Simon says the growth of the seven-day-a-week operation, with an online presence to also manage, has meant long days and sometimes nights - 14 to 16 hours was not unusual. There’s not nearly enough time for surfing and visiting the beach they adore, just metres from their doorstep. The Covid-19 outbreak has contributed to the timing of their decision to retire.

“We had thought about it on occasion and Covid-19 really just provided time to reflect and consider what was right for us,” says Simon, who admits he is still not fully sure of how he is feeling. “I will miss the gallery, mostly because of the people. I am a people person, so I think that’s going to be the hardest part for me.”

The idea for Moko Art Space was really inspired by the opportunities offered by the gallery’s location on Hot Water Beach’s main drag. “We just loved the site,” Simon says. “We were living in Cooks Beach at the time and we wanted to start an art space, mostly for Sonya’s work.” Sonya is a mixed media sculptor, although art has been forced to take a backseat in favour of running the business in recent years.

Moving to the Coromandel, Simon left behind a background in radio and advertising and never really looked back. “I started raising plants and then I learned how to make pots, and I kind of surprised myself,” he says.

Over the years Moko has grown, serving a loyal customer base and showcasing the work of over 100 Kiwi artists. “The connections we have made have been so important to us,” Sonya says. “We really want to try and continue those relationships.

The past few weeks have been frantic with what can only be described as an outpouring of love and support, coupled with an intense demand for art as regulars flock to make their final purchases.

“It’s just been unbelievable,” Simon says. “We made the announcement on our Facebook page and through our database, and we received hundreds of messages in that first day. In five days, we sent 567 replies. The emails continued to pour in for the next few days and they are still coming.”

As well as processing and packing online orders, along with running the retail side of the gallery, Sonya has been replying to as many people as possible. “They weren’t all simple messages of support - so many of them were stories and memories people had of coming to the gallery,” she says.

“Not only that, people have been buying art, some because they intended to later in the year and so they are coming now before we close, and others because they just wanted to show their support. It feels as though people wanted to take care of us and our artists and make sure we are okay. It makes you feel very emotional.”

With tears flowing, Sonya jokes that it’s exhaustion. But it is more than that. “We will grieve the place,” she says. “But for now, there is still lots to do - customers to serve, parcels to send, paperwork and of course boxing up all the remaining pieces and returning them to the artists who created them.

After a Queen’s Birthday Weekend that felt like mid-summer, with customers queuing in the driveway in pouring rain, the couple might well have been feeling a few last-minute nerves, but Simon and Sonya say they just feel really fortunate. “In a business where I guess you are not continually getting reviews or written feedback, maybe we weren’t really fully aware of how people felt about the gallery,” Sonya says. “We certainly know now. We would like to thank everyone for their support, you’ll all be missed.”

Pictured: Owners of Moko Artspace in Hot Water Beach, Sonya Corlett and Simon Buchanan, are retiring after 18 years in business.


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