Friday, June 6, 2014

Stylish Taranaki

Before I was a sketcher, I was a carver.  Consequently I enjoy studying carvings.  I carved a story into the front door of our home, then we built the house around it. 

In a way, carving involves a kind of sketching to develop the design.

Taranaki where we live is rich in Māori history.  We have a number of well preserved treasured carvings - recovered from swamps where they had been stored, likely during times of trouble.

The with the advent of the European, the steel chisel superseded the stone chisel  (whao)and carvings became more ornate.

I have done a little Māori carving, some under supervision. I've tried panels, mere, waka huia feather boxes, hei tiki and manaia to name a few.

The carvings from our region are characteristically distinctive.  Often with ridged serpentine bodies along the entire length.  The heads tend to be pointed, some suggest reminiscent of our conical volcano mountain.   This contrasts with the North Auckland style which has rounded heads.  Our foreheads are also very broad.  Invariably the arms, legs and bodies are linked, arms may curve under legs to elevate them and limbs echo the body's curve.   An arm often passes through its own mouth, which is distorted slightly to accommodate it.  A leg may even pass through the eye of another figure. 

Simple spirals (which in fact need to be drawn as two interlocked spirals when you come to carve them - a surprise to the beginner) are often placed on shoulders and hips.

Typically there are decorative embellishments outlining eyebrows, mouths and other areas These are usually a kind of curved fan shape (of two to six grooves) called pu-werewere (spider web).

The treatment of hands and feet are also special, the hands are crescent-like pointed fingers, with the feet more like claws.

This particular piece is an Epa, a house panel, on display in our Puke Ariki museum.  I cheated by adding the paua shell eyes, they had already disintegrated once it was removed from the swamp.

See if you can identify some of the above characteristics.

Paepae - a threshold beam - used by speakers.


  1. Nice drawings Scott and interesting write up.

  2. I'm a big whakairo fan, so really enjoyed this post Scott.

  3. Thanks guys. Yes we are fortunate in NZ to have some of the most graceful and elegant carving design in the world.

  4. Maori carvings are a challenge to sketch, so many angles and contours. Well done.