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Stress and healing through art

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Fiona had always wanted to be an artist – a painter. At 16 she was accepted into art school in Dunedin. However, the reality didn’t live up to her expectation and, at the time, the school offered students little creativity, play or painting, and lots of art theory.



© Fiona Thomas | Self portraits.


Disillusioned, Fiona left, got married and started a family, taking on various part-time jobs to supplement the family income whilst continuing to draw at home and teaching herself how to ticket write.

But, gradually, her marriage of twenty three years dissolved, and after training as a primary school teacher, Fiona headed off overseas. Intending to travel for a year, she stayed abroad for more than fifteen after meeting Derek, an Englishman. In London for 6 years they moved to Spain in 2004, where they lived together a further 7 years.

It was the tragic death of Derek, her husband, muse and soulmate, that set in motion Fiona’s move back home to New Zealand 18 months later, her walk through the gates of The Learning Connexion and her journey towards creativity and art.



© Fiona Thomas


Back in New Zealand, widowed and working at Pak’n Save to make ends meet, Fiona felt alone, stuck and disconnected. Despite being a Kiwi and reunited with loving family and friends she started to wonder, “What on earth am I doing back here?”

Part of her heart remained in Spain with her departed husband. “You never get over losing someone you love, but you learn to get on with things. I didn’t realise until I came back to New Zealand and began studying at TLC, how fragile I still was.”

Studying creativity at The Learning Connexion set Fiona on a path of soul searching and healing through her art. It opened her eyes to the fact that she was still feeling extremely vulnerable and gave her an outlet in which to channel those feelings, be free and try new things like sculpting.



Fiona has used raku pottery clay to create a series of organic forms somewhat reminiscent of traditional white Japanese ceramic shards. It’s a powerful physical and visual commentary of singular reactions to external and internal stresses.



© Fiona Thomas


The (as yet un-named and unfinished) collection is the result of what happens to clay when it’s put under pressure, dropped, lifted, pushed and pulled to breaking point by forces around it. Each piece tells a story in the material and cracks of the clay, physically showing every little mark made by the artist. And, in doing so, it takes on a uniqueness and lifeform all of it’s own. Collection pieces can be separated, but they are also made to sit together, as a whole.



© Fiona Thomas


Artist’s commentary: “The black, green and coloured drips came about as I couldn’t decide which I preferred more. There’s a connection running throughout the collection with the same colour, glaze and oxide on every piece but to varying degrees and in different places.”



Making and creating art, and being surrounded by supportive tutors and fellow students, has helped guide Fiona through life’s inevitable ups and downs. Even when she broke her wrist during the programme and had to get pins inserted, TLC’s tutors helped her rehabilitate, taught her how to adapt and draw with her left hand, and got her back on track. Nowadays, whenever Fiona’s stuck with her work, or unsure about life, she simply switches hands.

“I’m not nearly as sad as when I first came here. Now I walk around with a big grin on my face a lot of the time.”



© Fiona Thomas


"One of the things TLC has helped me realise is that I’ve been an artist all my life. I know deep in myself that what I do is okay. Outside it’s nice to get the recognition, but if you want to be true about your art, it has to come from the inside.”

With a renewed sense of optimism and a Diploma of Art & Creativity in her back pocket, Fiona is travelling back overseas to Spain to visit old friends, her old life and to gain some closure on the past.

Her parting words are: Hopefully this is the start of something great. It feels like it is to me. It’s my time now. To make the most of my life and work out what’s next. I turn 60 next year – that’s only half my life!”



  • Jennie Sherwin
    12/12/2016 7:42pm (7 years ago)

    What an amazing journey Fiona and I love your ceramic collection. I thoroughly enjoyed our brief encounter and wish you all the best for your future adventures.

  • Kath Wood
    22/11/2016 2:59am (7 years ago)

    Thanks so much for sharing this Fiona. T'was good to get to know you Fiona at Mark's Thursday painting class last term. Wishing you all the best. Go well.

  • sandie pandie
    03/11/2016 4:54am (7 years ago)

    Fiona is my bestest friend in the world and it was so lovely to read about her journey into finding her inner artist. It has been a long time coming.

  • Mandy Hague
    03/11/2016 1:18am (7 years ago)

    It is so lovely to read your story Fiona. Long may you continue to heal and grow through your art and life. It takes courage to share - thank you.

  • J & D Gray
    02/11/2016 11:58pm (7 years ago)

    Well done Fiona, extremely inspirational and reflects a lot of credit on you :)

  • Rebecca
    02/11/2016 10:20pm (7 years ago)

    Beautiful Fiona, I really loved watching your work in cerrmics. Made me smile alot seeing how much you where enjoying playing with the clay, colours an raku firing. Great lady with so much hidden talent that came out so much at tlc.

  • Christine Elks
    02/11/2016 8:13pm (7 years ago)

    What an absorbing and inspirational write up for Fiona. Wishing her all the best to go from strength to strength in the future..

  • Jeannie
    02/11/2016 7:16pm (7 years ago)

    Thank you for sharing your story Fiona. I found it inspiring, how wonderful that through being creative you found yourself. Keep enjoying keep creating keep living life to the fullest ❤️️