As Māori did not have a written language until the 19th century, carvings were used to record and preserve the history and culture of our people. Ornate Māori carvings can be found on meeting houses, canoes, weapons and jewellery – with superior carvings seen as a sign of prestige.
Māori carvings are a record of tribal affairs and pay deep respect to ancestors, history and the people for whom they are prepared – although they cannot be read or interpreted in a Western sense.
Our isolation from the rest of Polynesia means Māori wood carving differs significantly from other Pacific styles, although the basic patterns are believed to originate from our ancestral homeland of Hawaiki.
Hundreds of carvers have been taught the ancient Māori tradition of wood carving since the National Carving School’s first intake in 1967, working with native timbers on many carving projects including more than 30 wharenui (meeting houses) and countless gifts for visitors and overseas dignitaries.
The original intake of seven carving apprentices were selected from major tribes throughout the country, to train under the master carver John Taiapa – a student of the first Māori Carving School in 1927. Part of that 1967 group were present day Master Carvers at NZMACI, Clive Fugill and James Rickard.
The Carving School is focused on the development of a diverse range of Māori treasures and progressing our cultural capital, with students connecting the past and future of our culture through Māori arts and crafts.
One of seven students selected for the first intake at the Institute in 1967, today James Rickard is a Tohunga Whakairo (Master Carver) and Tumu Whakarae (Head of the School). He takes great pride in the role the Institute has had on preserving the art of whakairo (carving) in New Zealand and sees ‘a better future not only for the graduates of this school but for Māori culture in general’.
As this is a national school, students are carefully selected so that different iwi (tribes) throughout the country are represented. After working towards a three year diploma, students can take an optional fourth year to complete further honours. Throughout their studies students produce work of impeccable quality, some of which is available to purchase from our gift shop
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