For anyone that knows Maitland’s bona fide leather aficionado, Bob Dennerley and his wife Annie, they would know that Bob has been selling their handmade leather goods to the Maitland community for over 20 years.
A wander through his store at The Levee reveals wallets, belts, bags, aprons, diaries and his workshop, where every item is made in store.
On a rear wall the tools of Bob’s trade are proudly on display, as is the large, age beaten wooden table he works on. None of the tools shine, rather, they tell the story of a man who has worked with his hands, and leather, for 40 years.
Bob says ‘I lived on the street as a kid, in and out of gaol and had a horrible existence, but just picked up leather one day then started selling on a blanket on the streets.
‘I suddenly worked out that people wanted to buy things that were actually made by somebody and it kind of took off from there’.
The realisation that a greater value was placed in the handmade allowed Bob to spruik his wares across the globe, before settling in Maitland.
‘I’ve lived in cities all over the world, but I kept coming back to the Hunter. Aesthetics are important to me and this High Street, it’s just beautiful’, he said.
Bob will be the first to tell you that he values his community more than his work, but when you’re a part of the Maitland community there are things that happen that are uniquely Maitland, such as requests to repair the 100 year old speedball of local boxing champion Les Darcy.
‘I love my lifestyle, when you make things with your hands it’s immensely rewarding, business couldn’t be better, and I’m truly blessed in every way and form’.
At the east end of High Street you will find an explosion of colour in the Maitland Regional Art Gallery (MRAG) that goes beyond the exhibitions.
The building in which MRAG is housed is immersed in the history of Maitland, and is an incredible example of 1900s architecture. Originally the Maitland Technical College, the building now is a blend of the recently renovated and Federation Gothic design that has the potential to inspire and enthuse visitors.
From her spot behind the main desk, visitors are likely to be greeted by Anna Buxton-Soldal, who is the picture of someone who has landed a job other young emerging artists can only dream of, being able to spend her days surrounded by art, and her nights making it.
‘It’s great to be able to work in the industry I love. It’s a great motivator for me because I can see all these other amazing and talented people displaying their work, so it motivates me to keep striving to get better’, said Anna.
Hearing the experiences of visitors and staff it becomes very clear that MRAG is focused on making art accessible to the community. Its program not only features amazing touring exhibitions, but includes public tours, adult art classes and an education program for children of all age groups, which is a great resource for teachers and parents to nurture the talents of local budding artists.
And that’s not all. Maitland has plenty of creative gems around the city from a range of art galleries and music schools to hand made jewellery and collectables stores. Find some of these by strolling down High Street, meandering through Morpeth and wandering around East Maitland.