About the Artists
Meet the Gypsy Crew - The duo that’s keepin’ the Lost Gypsy goin’
Organic mechanic and tinkerer
Blair Somerville made his first automata more than 20 years ago. He was cleaning out a Pūpū Karikawa (Cooks Turban Shell) when it made a curious little sound.
“What will happen if I turn it?” he wondered. A little wire here, a twist of the pliers there plus a few choice words and voilà! The infamous gurgler was born.
Since then, Blair has hand-crafted hundreds if not thousands of automata ranging in size and design. Each piece is made from recycled and found objects and invites you to engage and play, as if you were a kid again.
“Blair is slightly puckish and very twinkly.” Sarah Bond, Travel Writer
Blair is a self-taught tinkerer who loves messing about with electronics, a hobby that began at school. The now defunct electronic store Dick Smith used to publish mini guides on “how to make stuff” which Blair ate up.
Blair has been rewarding the curious for over twenty years now. Inspired by dreams, he sleeps with a pencil and notebook under his mattress, and fills his sheds with found, gifted, and recycled objects that most of us would be happy to see the back of. Blair’s work has found homes around the world, and an international audience now seeks him out.
When not creating, this tinkerer can be found surfing the crest of a magnificent Catlins’ wave, or volunteering on the local fire truck. Blair happily lives together with his fiancée Sandra and Pepino the parrot.
To learn more about Blair, see below.
Sandra van der Sommen
Illustrator and Muse
It was on the day before Christmas, 2018, when this lady met Blair at his gallery. A week prior, she met Blair’s ex-girlfriend (no joke!) and was told to go see this “genius artist in The Catlins”. Sandra was struck by Blair’s blue eyes, and they had a quick and flirty chat. Both artists could never have dreamed what this brief encounter would develop into….
At the time, Sandra van der Sommen was backpacking in NZ. Born and raised in The Netherlands, she set out to explore the other side of the world whilst on her study break. Her journey was nearly finished when she stumbled upon the Lost Gypsy. Blair convinced her to stay a little longer and it was in these two weeks they fell head over heels for each other. She had to travel back to Amsterdam though, and were separated for three months, Facetiming every day (thank you, modern technology!). Finally, in April 2019, Sandra left her Netherlands home to live with Blair, and the Lost Gypsy has never felt less-lost.
Sandra now works from her Papatowai Little Blue Studio as a talented portrait artist and painter of animals. She is happy to take commissions, just shoot her an email! As an ornithophile (that’s bird-lover in Kiwi-speak!), she is passioned about birdies, especially parrots. A previous student of art history, her focus was on bird books and drawings from the 16th -19th century. With years of experience as a gallery assistant, Sandra is closely involved with running The Lost Gypsy Gallery and Theater of Winding Thoughts. She also helps monitor the local little blue penguin colony. Recently the couple introduced a new family member, Pepino (Spanish for cucumber). With a bit of luck, you might spot this green parrot in the Gallery.
For commission inquiries, please email:
The Lost Gypsy
Rewarding the curious since 1999
Imagine a creative nomad in his twenties, inside a little house truck, making small ceramics and firing them in his wee fireplace. Blair would travel around and sell his creations at markets all over the South Island. This was the start of an artist’s life, of the Lost Gypsy.
After more than a decade of wandering, Blair decided it was time to find his spot. He was drawn to Papatowai, as he has spent much time there as a kid. With gravel roads, deep down south, it was incredibly remote. The property was nothing more than a paddock. But for Blair it was perfect. Without the distractions of the city, he could devote himself to his biggest love, Art.
This tinkerer wouldn’t just settle though. Blair had a vision. He shifted a 1951 Leyland house bus from Dunedin onto his land, that he then set up as a gallery. And since Blair had more space, he expanded his creative vocabulary. Automata art: stuff that moves, by winding handles and pushing buttons. You have to touch them to appreciate them. And oh-boy, what a success it is. Blair couldn’t keep up with the demand. But after a decade of making and selling automata it started to gnaw on him. This artist felt like he got stuck in production work. Blair wanted to create, tinker, and experiment again. One day he saw the light, and that’s when he starting building his Masterpiece…
“How do I show my inventions to the public?” Blair asked himself. Behind the gallery, hidden amongst the foliage, he transformed three water tanks (sophistically decorated with glass) into a shrine, displaying his many incredible automata. This is the birth of The Winding Thoughts Theatre. The very best of his creations, and it’s ready to be played with. It is hard to describe the experience, as there is no place alike, and you’ll never encounter anything like it again. Opened in 2008, Blair continues to add pieces, expanding the museum, making it bigger, bolder, and more beautiful. If you want to capture a glimpse of Blair’s genius mind, go explore the Theatre. Curiosity will be rewarded.
Do you sell your work?
Sorry, but no. I used to sell small mechanical dolphins, whales and other curios, but stopped in 2013 to focus on creating larger automata and artworks for exhibitions.
Where do you get all your ideas from?
Are you kidding, ideas are everywhere! Life is a creative endeavour.
Where are you from?
I was born in the Hutt Valley in Wellington. I’ve lived in Christchurch, Samoa, and Auckland but The Catlins is my tūrangawaewae (place to stand).
What is automata?
Automata is the word used to describe different types of mechanical toys. Depending on the mechanism used they can perform a range of motions, from simple to very complex. I create a lot of crank toys which rely on cams and gears for a single rotation. I also love to play with electronics and kinetic movement.
Where are the penguins?
According to DoC, the hoiho, or yellow-eyed penguin, is thought to be one of the world’s rarest penguin species. You will find them in Roaring Bay which is near Nugget Point or further south at Curio Bay in Waikawa. The best time to view them is during the early hours of the morning or just before dark. Remember to keep your distance so they can waddle over to their nesting spots.