James ‘Jimmy’ Alley celebrated turning 83 on Friday with his close friends. Photo: Kate Russell.

Jimmy marks 83 years of remarkable life


If you’re a regular visitor to Nelson’s city centre, you’ve probably encountered James ‘Jimmy’ Alley and one of his famous drawings.

While being born deaf and experiencing a life of residential care, the much-loved friend marked his 83rd birthday on Friday.

Born in Wellington, Jimmy was placed in Braemar at the age of two after his mother died. This was followed by time in Ngawhatu.

“Various people worked hard with him over the years to get him out into the community,” says his residential carer, Craig Barton.

“I know he was often, in his younger days, helping feed the young children in Braemar – something he lights up and feels so proud about.”

Faye Wulff from Community Art Works Nelson says Jimmy has been attending sessions with her once a week “without fail” for over 20 years.

She reckons most shops in town would recognise him from coming in and giving them one of his drawings.

“You see them all over town – everybody’s got a drawing of Jim’s.”

He has also enjoyed a small amount of notoriety with one of his pictures being publicly displayed on the Westpac building this year.

“His drawings are like a language – they tell me what’s going on in his world,” says Faye. “I remember one year he spent the whole year drawing the swans on the river because he really liked them, and he often draws the food carts.

“We’ve just worked with him for so long – he’s like a best friend. He’s what makes me keep Community Art Works going. He’s very loved.”

Craig says that in the last 18 months Jimmy’s mobility has decreased, but it doesn’t stop him from living his life to the fullest.

He enjoys going to All Saints Church, snooker and the flea market on Sundays.

“I think he is deserving of some recognition for the strength and resilience he has shown over his life. I don’t know many people that last that long in this kind of care.”