Filmmaker Andrea Bosshard inherited a creative streak from her goldsmith father Kobi but, as Ken Downie discovers, the most important life lesson he taught her was when and how to break the rules.
“Yes, of course. McCahon gave it to us,” says Bosshard. The lovely little cottage he and his wife Patricia Bosshard-Browne share in Middlemarch, among a cluster of stone buildings tucked behind an ancient schist wall, is filled with art, and all of it’s real.
They’ve just finished breakfast, which they always eat at the table around 8am. “None of this eating on the run,” Kobi says, reflecting a disciplined life without hurry.
The 79-year-old has been described as the grandfather of contemporary New Zealand jewellery, and was the subject of a documentary, Kobi – A Life Work, that screened at the 2017 New Zealand International Film Festival. Directed by his daughter, Andrea Bosshard, it’s an intimate story told through her eyes, extending the narrative beyond his work and into the realms of love, ageing, the loss of friends, and death. (The DVD is available for $35 at torchlightfilms.co.nz.)
The eldest of Kobi and Patricia’s three children, Andrea recently moved back to their family roots in Dunedin with her partner, film editor Shane Loader, who worked with her on Kobi. The couple first teamed up in the late 80s, and have collaborated on a string of feature film and documentary projects, including The Great Maiden’s Blush, Hook, Line & Sinker, Taking the Waewae Express and Backroom Troubles. Alongside her work behind the camera, Andrea has also taught film production, screen writing and screen performance for film and documentary at Victoria University and the Whitireia Performance Centre. Younger brother Sam is a mountain guide based in Twizel and Lisa, the youngest of the three siblings, is a landscape designer living on Dunedin’s South Coast. “I think all of our children have inherited aspects of us both,” says Kobi.
A third-generation goldsmith, Kobi emigrated from Switzerland in 1961 and made his way to Mt Cook, where there was a contingent of young foreign climbers. “I was looking for palm trees and mountains.”
He met and married Patricia, an Aucklander who was working at The Hermitage. After Andrea was born they moved to Akaroa, where he set up a workshop. “It was a very good time,” he remembers. “We had pride in New Zealand-made. There were import restrictions back then and not a lot of competition. New Zealanders had travelled overseas and seen the world, and when they came back, they discovered people like me.”
In the late 60s and early 70s, there was a vibrant arts scene in Akaroa, which attracted leading artists such as Barry Cleavin, Philip Trusttum, Bill Hammond and Laurence Aberhart – all of whom remain good family friends to this day. When the Bosshards got their hands on a 16mm projector, they set up the local film society.
In 1970, Patricia opened a contemporary art gallery, naming it Rue Pompallier after the street on which it was located. “Originally she set up the gallery to sell my jewellery,” say Kobi, “but it turned into bigger things.”
In 1976, the family piled into their 1954 Humber Super Snipe and moved to Dunedin. Patricia founded Bosshard Galleries on lower Dowling St (and ran it until 1992, when she decided to close the doors and study weaving instead). Kobi ran co-op gallery Fluxus next door, and the family lived one floor up, in a big warehouse space that felt more like New York than Dunedin.
The couple bought their Middlemarch cottage in 1999 and have separate workshops: Kobi’s is in an old shearing shed. His modernist style is distinct, and his influence has transformed contemporary jewellery here. His pieces are exhibited throughout New Zealand (Te Papa has a large collection), but he calls himself “a craftsman, not an artist”.
In Kobi, Andrea’s quiet, unhurried depiction of her father’s life, the viewer is presented with a very personal perspective – depicting what she describes as “a delicate dance” between memory and reality. In the process, the humour and warmth of their father-daughter relationship is revealed.
As a child, Andrea was always practical; she could knit and sew before she was five. The kids were always in the workshop when they were younger. I remember Andrea used to help out a bit, doing some filing and stuff, but I didn’t expect any of them to follow in my footsteps and become the family’s fourth-generation jeweller.
I always encouraged her to do her own thing – she was the more artistic one in the family from the start. Once, she drew a picture of a blue cat, and the teacher’s reaction was, ‘Have you ever seen a blue cat, Andrea?’ My response was, ‘Ask the teacher if she has “never” seen a blue cat.’
We were a very close family. Still are. But back then, we really did things together. I remember we used to play cowboys and Indians with Philip Trusttum and his family; sometimes the Cleavins would join in. Everyone got involved, kids and adults. I can’t remember whose side was who, but it was pretty rough and tumble. The Trusttums always had to win.
Ralph Hotere turned up and we all played darts; Ralph really looked the part but he wasn’t as good a player as he looked. [Husband and wife artists] Jeffrey Harris and Joanna Paul would visit. Once she brought a Super 8 camera and shot a nice little Bosshard home movie that Andrea used in her film.
We didn’t have a TV, so one day we gave the kids the option between a TV and a dog. They picked the dog, thinking TV would come anyway, which it didn’t. Well, not for quite a while. So I’d read to the family almost nightly, mainly children’s historic fiction, like Henry Treece and Rosemary Sutcliff and many others… I can’t take too much credit here – lots of people read to their kids – but I think my choice of reading may have been developmental in some small way.
During the Save Aramoana Campaign [which opposed the building of a major aluminium smelter in the mid-70s], we would all pile into the old Humber Super Snipe. It was a huge car; Andrea, Sam and Lisa were in charge of putting the glue onto the back of the [protest] posters, which they did on the back seat. Sometimes Andrea would help out pasting the posters on various walls and lampposts all over Dunedin. We had such great fun as a family.
Andrea was in high school when the drama teacher first spotted her interest in film and lent her a camera. She and I went filming around the Taieri River, near Hyde. That’s when Andrea first started thinking about what the camera saw, as opposed to how we see things. A family friend, Trixie Woodill, gave Andrea her first Super 8 movie camera just in time for the  Springbok Tour, which she documented. She started making short home movies as well around this time, which became quite important later.
People have said Andrea has a slight accent. I suppose that’s entirely my fault, though I have to say I’ve never noticed it, but then I have never noticed my own accent, either. I think we’re quite similar: her interest in film has a lot of parallels with the way I approach my work. For me, it’s about the materials and the process more than the design these days and I accept what turns out – the way it turns out. That’s similar to Andrea’s approach to documentary filmmaking, where the end product is often different to the planned idea.
I find myself recommending Kobi all the time, I’m not embarrassed at all to tell people it’s fantastic, even if it is about me. I’m really proud of what she’s done.”
“When we were kids, it was always Kobi and Patricia, not Mum and Dad. Lisa experimented with the Dad and Mum idea, but it never caught on. I always thought we were quite a normal family and that everyone else was a bit different. Not better, not worse – just different.
My earliest memories of Kobi come from when I was about two years old, living in Kent St, Christchurch. Kobi picks me up and sits me on the bench, he cuts us each a slice of cheese – probably gruyere – and tells me not to eat the rind. Perhaps we ate differently to other families, not as much meat on our table. I remember asking once, ‘Why can’t we just have an ordinary dinner, mince and three veg like everybody else?’
My childhood was like being brought up in a state of healthy neglect. We had a lot of freedom as kids. It wasn’t what you’d call hands-on parenting! I tried to be the same with my kids, though it was a different time and place for them.
Kobi definitely taught us to take a stand. We went to our first demonstration as a family in the Octagon in 1977 to protest against the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Amendment Bill [which considerably expanded the SIS’s monitoring powers]. Afterwards, we went across the street to the Octagon Theatre, where the whole family watched Sleeping Dogs, which was a bit like a life and art replay.
It was probably the era, but both Kobi and Patricia had a very anti-authoritarian and anarchic streak, coupled with a strong moral compass of justice and equality. I remember they took us on adventures that included spraying political graffiti on the motorway or pasting anti-Muldoon posters on unemployment offices.
During the Springbok tour, Kobi got arrested for being part of a group that blocked off George St [in central Dunedin]. He’s still protesting today. At the moment, he’s on a mission to end the use of plastic wrappers on the rural delivery Otago Daily Times.
I have a really early memory of singeing my hair on the burner in Kobi’s workshop. As kids, we were always watching the process, though I never thought I’d follow him into the family business. He taught us to do things properly, to never take short cuts, and always know when to stop.
Growing up, we didn’t have a TV, so Kobi used to read to us on a daily basis right up to secondary school. After dinner was finished and the dishes done, we’d all settle down for story time. It wasn’t about education, just a ritual that involved social reading as opposed to solitary reading. In hindsight, I think this socialised storytelling played an important role in my wanting to become a filmmaker.”
This article was first published in the May 2019 issue of North & South.