Ancient boulders hold contemporary objects in new public artwork in upper Federal Street

Last Updated : 30 Apr 2024
Resize Lost & Found By Joe Sheehan Federal St Sneakers Photo Bryan Lowe Auckland Council (1)
Resize Lost & Found Artist Joe Sheehan With Deb Ward City Mission Photo Bryan Lowe Auckland Council (1)
Joe Sheehan With Deb Ward City Mission
Resize Lost & Found Joe Sheehan Hayley Wolters Genevieve Sage Photo Bryan Lowe Auckland Council
Joe Sheehan, Hayley Wolters and Genevieve Sage.

Residents of Federal Street (south) are enjoying the arrival of eight large boulders, hand carved with precision and care by artist Joe Sheehan and placed in their street. The light-up of this extraordinary artwork Lost & Found will take place in May.

Lost & Found was commissioned by Auckland Council as part of the re-designed Mayoral Drive end of Federal Street.

The new shared space at the Mayoral Drive end of Federal Street opened in July 2022 with an inclusive feel, enhanced lighting, 13 new native trees and nine rain gardens filtering stormwater before it reaches the waterways.

Lost & Found is the final stage of this street upgrade.

On the upper plane of each boulder, thought to be millions of years old, everyday belongings can be seen carved with intricate detail. The woven thread of shoelaces can be seen in a pair of sneakers. Other objects include a baseball cap, puffer jacket, sunglasses, gloves and a backpack.

Carved in hard stone to a smooth satin finish these sculptures draw the hand and eye. The objects are a metaphor to support a greater sense of community for residents in this street.

Sheehan says: “The belongings are a kind of figurative work that extends through the street. The two gloves are at each end and hold the space, the jacket lies under St Matthew’s as a cruciform echo of the figure on the cross, the shoes are found at the door of the Auckland City Mission – Te Tāpui Atawhai.

“Each part interacts with different aspects of the street,” he says.

This more reflective, quieter end of Federal Street has become a living backyard for residents of the street’s apartment towers, commuters on bikes and scooters, walkers and the congregation of St Matthew-in-the-City. The street has special significance to many of the city's street whānau also, particularly people supported by the Mission.

“This street has a special dynamic. It is a place of unique social confluence. I had a sense that people were living in very different worlds, and I wanted this artwork to help bring those worlds closer together. My hope was that these carvings would work as touchstones and operate as a kind of connective tissue between people,” says Sheehan.

Waitematā Local Board Chair Genevieve Sage says public art is vital in our city as it pushes us to appreciate a new way of thinking, discovering and honouring our past and present.

“I want to say how much we appreciate Joe Sheehan and this new work. Through Joe’s extraordinary skill and creative exploration we see a space where contemporary artwork meets early geological formations which join to tell a story. The artwork is inviting us to see and touch and experience it in a contemporary way,” she says.      

The artist sourced the boulders from a variety of locations throughout New Zealand, helping people who originate from other places in New Zealand find a grounding here.  

The eight ancient, “deep time” boulders weigh between one and four tonnes each.

Sheehan’s process begins with a six-foot saw and finishes with a 1mm diamond drill to define, for example, the ridged soles of the shoes and the seams of the jacket.

Sheehan has also designed a series of large sculptural lamps to illuminate each relief-carved object, while leaving the balance of the rock in relative darkness. This element will be formally unveiled in April, and at that time the artwork will be complete. Joe Sheehan wants people to touch the carved belongings, developing a patina over time and says: “These works are designed to be touched and through that physical contact the public will, literally, finish the artwork.”

Hayley Wolters, Auckland Council Manager Public Art, Service Strategy and Partnerships, encourages people to come and experience the artwork for themselves. Lost & Found is significant for the Auckland Council public art collection, and it will be one of the largest series of carved stone artworks in a public place in Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Joe’s intricate, detailed work is one of the hallmarks of his practice. You will think there’s a real object sitting on each stone ready to be found. After being sourced from around New Zealand, I’m delighted that the stones have now arrived in Federal Street and we encourage Aucklanders to stop by and welcome them into their new home,” Wolters says.

Auckland Council Public Art Project Manager Terry Urbahn who will see this project to its conclusion in April says: “The ambition of Lost & Found was to create richly detailed and illuminated moments, encouraging discoverability over time and a sense of social warmth and welcome. We are thrilled to have realised this ambition.”

Auckland Council’s Auckland Public Art / He Kohinga Toi website helps make public art more accessible. 

The website gives Aucklanders a new way to discover artworks; it shares the stories behind the collection. With more than 100 artworks already online, the map functionality allows people to search and discover artworks from their phone or mobile device. Once ‘location’ is turned on (under settings on your device) you can geo-locate artworks wherever you are.

The artist

‘Joe Sheehan studied contemporary jewellery at Unitec in the mid-1990s and since then has worked in carving studios throughout New Zealand. His interest in the historical, geological and cultural context of stone has led to extensive on-site field work and exploration both in New Zealand and overseas.

The space between adornment and artefact has given him a wide field within which to operate. Sheehan’s artworks often twist the familiar and include everyday objects such as a working lightbulb, a cassette tape and batteries meticulously carved from pounamu (New Zealand jade). An edition of three slide carousels projecting light through thin slices of pounamu led to a series of large photographic works.

Sheehan is interested in fragments and artefacts, ancient and modern. In particular he is intrigued by their capacity to store large amounts of information – information which often requires an imaginative leap in order to come to life.  A found collection of television remote controls was the catalyst for ‘The quick and the dead’ – a collapsed and overlapping history of the hand tool presented in 100+ basalt, greywacke and argillite objects. In artworks like this Sheehan encourages viewers to stretch forward as well as to look backwards.

Sheehan’s work is held in collections including Te Papa Tongarewa Wellington, the Chartwell Collection Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth and the Victoria & Albert Museum, London UK.’  

Full bio at: Tim Melville Gallery -


Auckland Council’s investment in the Federal Street (south) upgrade was $9 million, spanning a development and delivery timeframe of 7 years before opening in 2022; funded by the city centre targeted rate. Lost & Found – the newly installed artwork – is the final element of that street upgrade. The council’s investment in Lost & Found was around $730,000 including engineering, art delivery, sourcing, carving, consenting and lighting. Final costs will be known when the lighting is operational in April.

This is funded by the Regional Public Art CAPEX budget. This artwork is a permanent addition to Auckland Council’s 400-strong collection. It is intended to be in place beyond 2050, providing Aucklanders and visitors with a thought-provoking, vibrant, enjoyable public art experience in an urban space. In 2026, it will be in a prime position on the threshold of Te Waihorotiu Station and a regenerated midtown.     

Back to News