The Light Maker of Oropi

Darcia Mather has loved and lost deeply in life but her talent and tenacity has shone a light all along the way.

Darcia Mather has loved and lost deeply in life but her talent and tenacity has shone a light all along the way.

Darcia Mather has experienced impossible tragedy and loss but is thriving again by bringing joy to others.

Courage. Self-reliance. Perseverance.

The qualities required in a Viking warrior run in Darcia Mather’s blood courtesy of her Danish paternal grandparents.

And Dannevirke-born Darcia has needed to call on her Viking heritage many times over the last decade when life got tough.

Resident in Oropi, Tauranga for about two decades, Darcia lived a somewhat nomadic life growing up — her father was a shepherd and the family moved around for his work. It was all country schools and long days playing outside until the family moved to Hastings.

Darcia got a job straight out of school — canning peaches “on the Wattie’s line” as the Hawke’s Bay sweltered in day after day of summer temperatures of 33 and 34 degrees. When she was 21, her life changed.

“He was that guy — always up for an adventure, he would lend a hand before you even knew you needed it, he was a provider and a strong person.”

“I saw this man out the window over my back fence, and there was just something about him. I thought ‘wow, I have to meet that guy’,” she says.

The man was Ian Mather, and when one of his young sons mischievously dumped a bucket of cold water over Darcia, that, she says with a smile, was that.

“I had never felt like that before, and never have since.”

The pair were together, soulmates and best friends, from then on. They moved to Tauranga, where both Ian and Darcia had family ties.

“He was that guy — always up for an adventure, he would lend a hand before you even knew you needed it, he was a provider and a strong person.”

They were engaged for seven years before marrying in 2000 — an outdoor ceremony in Yatton Park was shifted to the chook shed (minus the chickens, Darcia notes) at home on Kaitemako Road due to heavy rain.

Darcia had different jobs along the way, never quite finding her niche.

“Then I was training in Australia for yet another thing, and I thought ‘why are you here to train to do something that will chain you to a desk?’,” and she pulls a face at the thought.

“It was then I decided I wanted to design lights, but I had no idea how to do it.”

Ian was unphased, helping her with the practical side of lighting design and building.

And while Darcia’s illusions on the time it would take to create the lights were soon dispelled, she had caught the bug.

But large-scale lights are not cheap to produce.

Passionate motorbike fan Ian quietly sold his Harley Davidson bike, his pride and joy, and came back to press the money needed into his wife’s hand, saying simply, “Honey, go make your lights”.

Darcia, as Light Viking, now designs and fabricates the lights used at large corporate functions, weddings, and a variety of other events.

Before the lights are packed and delivered, they go through the ‘glam squad’. Just like any actress prepping for their big moment, the lights are cleaned and polished, ensuring they are looking their best and ready to take centre stage.

Projects have included a request for letters spelling out the name of global singing star Adele when she was in New Zealand in 2017; feature pieces for the New Zealand Rugby Union and Rugby World Cup; and one-offs such as the #dunnerstunner lights for Dunedin city and airport.

In the meantime, Ian introduced Darcia to her love for second-hand items.

“I was the one who went to Stevens [the homeware store] and picked out a brand new, matching dinner set and put it on Laybuy. I was not the one for garage sales.”

Initially reluctant, Darcia soon started making her own ‘picks’, which the pair cleaned up and resold at The Little Big Markets in Mount Maunganui.

But, just as Light Viking was gaining real momentum, stepping up to cater for high-profile events with large, eye-catching installations, tragedy struck.

Ian, Darcia’s loving husband, died suddenly at their Oropi property in April 2016.

The lights went down. Everything went dim. Darcia shut up the sheds where all the second-hand treasures were housed and went deep into grief.

And then, a chink in the dark. Needing a project, an income, and a creative outlet for her overwhelming grief, Darcia’s lights became her path forward.

“Ian was my everything. At the time I had no will to go on, and I would be making lights, and sometimes I just had to get down on the cold stone floor and have a cry.”

Light Viking thrived, keeping her busy until the Covid-19 pandemic hit, shutting down the events industry in New Zealand almost overnight in 2020.

“I was thinking the events industry was done, that it could never come back from this, and just crying hopelessly.

Darcia’s treasure-trove

Taxidermied animals are evenpart of the collection

The shed housing it all is known as The Silk Purse.

“I was watching videos to distract me, and that’s when I saw my next opportunity come up.”

Three women in the United States were selling second-hand, thrifted finds in a live online auction. Buyers could pay online and, with contactless pick up, this business model was a way to have an income in troubled times.

So, Darcia started selling personal effects and things she had ‘picked’ on vintage shopping trips and stored in her shed — aka The Silk Purse — on regular lives on Facebook.

These days, Darcia combines both sides of the business with ease. Regular roadies, to deliver and install lights around the North Island, allow her to pick treasures on the way back.

Sometimes Van Damme the van is packed with lights, and Darcia fits the other second-hand treasures around them, with the back of the van becoming a sparkly Aladdin’s cave.

Darcia enjoys the reactions to her lights. “People just love them and there is real joy there. It makes me so happy. I’m grateful I get to do this.”

Ian is never far from Darcia’s mind either — she uses some of his tools to create the lights, honouring him through her ‘heart work’.

Her lamps aren’t just for others either. Darcia is very much a maximalist and, unsurprisingly, it is lamps that cluster in her own lounge — there are eight and she would have more if they would fit.

And the large space housing the stock for The Silk Purse, which is also offered at regular open days, is a feast for the eyes.

The shelves are packed with a fantastic mixture of retro, antique and modern eclectic, everything from taxidermied animals and parasols twirling above, mingling with chandeliers and fringed lights, to bags, books, and the totally bizarre.

On Monday nights, Darcia takes on a different persona, donning a sparkly headband with a bird attached, lots of make-up and layers of costume jewellery to host a live Facebook auction.

And with her long hair loose, and bracelets, ribbons and enamel bangles climbing her arms, she resembles singer Stevie Nicks, a free spirit and Viking warrior in one.

Through bringing joy to others, Darcia finds her own happiness. Lighting her own way by lighting theirs.


Find Darcia on Facebook under Light Viking, NZ Pickers and Silk Purse Tauranga.

Words by Katherine Whittaker
Photography by Adrienne Pitts