20 New Zealand artists that work with jade | Mountain Jade New Zealand
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Pen and pencil carvings in jade by jade artist Joe Sheehan.

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Rotorua based jade artist Lewis Gardiner. Specialist in contemporary Maori design.

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Our Mountain Jade team from Hokitika. Specialists in classic Maori inspired designs like the koru, fish hook, twist, and toki.

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Jade carver Robert Singer, known as Puk. Specialist in the carving of animals and fish hook necklaces.

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Jade artist Niki Nepia, specialist in intricate manaia and hei tiki designs.

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Carver John Sheehan Jnr with carver Minnie in our Hokitika carving studio.

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Rotorua based jade carver Nick Ford. Specialist in organic design.

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A series of hei tiki necklaces by specalist Niki Nepia.

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A series of twist necklaces by New Zealand jade carver Johnny Vroblifski.

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A koru carving by New Zealand greenstone carver Garry Fairbrother.

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New Zealand jade hook carving by New Zealand greenstone carver Luke Gardiner.

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Toki specialist Jacob Sheehan.

jade - 14,Feb,2016

20 New Zealand artists that work with jade

FOUND IN jade

READING TIME FIFTEEN MINUTES     WORDS BY JACOB SHEEHAN

New Zealand is a small country with a population of around 4.4 million people. Of that population there are less than 35 professional artists and pounamu craftsmen that sculpt jade as a career - a very small number. From this 35, I've plucked out 20 which have designs that showcase what New Zealand jade carvers can do.

Some have worked with the stone for a lifetime and are the most seasoned and talented in the country. Some are up and comers, young carvers like myself, who have fallen in love the carving process and material but are yet to embrace it full time. And some are world renowned. What we all have in common is a genuine passion for the stone and a respect for the time consuming, difficult carving process.

Robert Singer

Since the moment – at age 5 – that Robert Singer found his first piece of jade, the stone has been both a fascination and a muse.

Years later, in the late seventies, Robert got his formal start in the Jade industry – serving an apprenticeship as lapidarian on New Zealand’s West Coast. Jade was plentiful in this area at the time, and the young man quickly discovered within himself a spirit of creativity that carving it allowed him to explore.

Scrimshaw and etching are trademarks of Robert’s work. Through this intricate sculptural medium, Robert expresses his love of nature and the great outdoors, and his respect for wildlife by carving depictions of deer, fantails, kea and kiwi.

Of all the jade carving I have seen crafted by Robert, it's his hooks that have really stood out for me. The designs are carefully simple, but finished perfectly. They have a sharp masculine feel to them with multiple barbed points in many of the designs.

Des Hetherington

Des Hetherington’s fascination and affinity with jade was sparked by an encounter with an ancient pounamu adze at Karamea, on the West Coast of the South Island. It was the start of a lifelong journey of discovery.

In 1968, Des’ family moved to the heart of New Zealand’s greenstone country, and he began to learn about the many beautiful forms of New Zealand jade. The beauty of Kokopu, Inanga, Kahurangi and Marsden 'flower' jade varieties hold a special fondness with this artist.

In the early seventies, already a highly creative and artistic person who found expression in music, Des was encouraged into carving the stone he loved into jade art.

In recent years he has had the honour and fortune of being mentored in the intricacies of wood carving by the Maori master carver Fayne Robinson. Des believes this additional knowledge has infused his primarily one-off designs with a new purity and spirit.

Des is one of a handful of New Zealand carvers who are able to carve hei tiki perfectly in proportion. Its clear that the influence of master wood carver Fayne Robinson has resulted in Des's hei tiki becoming some of the most beautiful on offer. 

John Sheehan

Award-winning jade carver John Sheehan Junior may be young in years, but his father’s passion for jade and his fascination with carving was passed on to John Junior as a youngster. At just 18 years of age he won a major prize in the illustrious Mana Pounamu Contemporary Awards.

Being part of a strong family tradition of jade carvers also means that John has been exposed to many career-enriching experiences in Canada, China, Japan and Germany.

Inspired by jade’s strength, and tactile nature, John’s approach to carving is to push the limits of the stone and and craft designs that reflect his Irish and English heritage. John infuses ancient Celtic patterns with the traditional Maori designs of New Zealand to create immensley complex forms that are absolutely beautiful. 

Joe Sheehan

New Zealand artist Joe Sheehan (1976) studied contemporary jewellery at Unitec in the mid 1990s, and since then has worked in carving studios throughout New Zealand and visited nephrite-jade deposits around the world.

Joe's jade and pounamu pieces explore the contemporary relevance and position of greenstone carving, with his recent work looking at the commercialization of the jade industry and the limitations it places on jade's potential as a medium for relevant art practise. Joe plays with social and cultural contexts and questions the way we see things, making pounamu and jade objects that speak first about their object status and second about their material.
In November 2006 Joe was one of the inaugural recipients of the NZ Arts Foundation's New Generation Awards. These awards, of $25,000 each, are presented every two years to five artists who have demonstrated excellence in the early stages of their careers. In 2008 Joe was invited to represent New Zealand in the 28th Sao Paulo Bienal in Brazil. In 2010 he received an Antarctica Fellowship.

Joes work includes perfectly rendered ballpoint pens, sunglasses, AA batteries, a working lightbulb, and a working pounamu cassette tape.

Nick Ford

Nick Ford always had the spirit of an artist resting within him. When a bone carving his daughter created at school broke and Nick was asked to fix it, that artist awoke.

Years later, and Nick has sculpted and carved everything from ancient rocks to native wood, above all though, Nick has been drawn to the organic form and feel of Jade.

Nick strives for a deep sense of peace, comfort and oneness to come from his work. His sense of reward as an artist comes from the love and sentiment the wearer imbues their jade with.

Niki Nepia

Niki Nepia became a specialist pounamu carver in 2003. His work is defined by a stylized take on traditional Maori art forms. His designs are influenced by the natural surroundings of the Urewera Ranges, a forested area where Niki grew up. From a young age he incorporated aspects of nature and free-form design in all his work, being careful also to remain true to the spiritual side of his culture and its art forms. This has created a unique, almost fluid aesthetic seen throughout all of Nikis work today, which when paired with his drive to produce complex carvings, will see Niki soon become one of New Zealand’s foremost Jade artists.

In my opinion Nikis carving is the most technically impressive in New Zealand. Each of his manaia & tiki designs (his trademark) are incredibly 3-dimensional and detailed. 

Anthony Jenner

Born in Rotorua in 1977 and now living in Tauranga, Anthony Jenner works almost exclusively in pounamu (greenstone) since being taught pounamu carving techniques by Peter Akker having earlier gained a trade certificate in manufacturing jewellery. The development of his creativity has been inspired by the work of fellow artists Scott Mudge and Scott Parker.

He says “My work is based on traditional designs inspired by natural forms but also incorporating contemporary flair.”

Pounamu and precious metals remain the material focus of his work, which is represented in many galleries around Aotearoa/New Zealand.

If your looking for an artist carved toki blade don't overlook Anthonys work. His carving is meticulous. I inspect each of his toki blades for scratches and flaws before putting them online, and not once have I seen a mistake or fault. The polish he achieves is even and highly reflective, and his binding around the top of the toki is always executed perfectly being tight and evenly placed. Oh, he also has access to some of the most beautiful pieces of jade in the country. We have a range of his toki blades here.

Donn Salt

Donn is one of the original 1960’s pioneers to explore jade carving in New Zealand.  Researching and examining old Maori artifacts provided the key to carving this stone, and his early designs were based on these insights.

Organic sculptures, often ethereal, with a unique sense of form not related to any one culture add a tantalizing mystery to all of Donns tactile carvings.

Donn can carve one of the most complex forms in nature beautifully - the human face. Usually depicted with large luscious lips, each face has an almost otherworldy appearance.

Lewis Gardiner

Lewis Gardiner is regarded as one of the most innovative and respected Māori jade artists of his generation. In 1994, he graduated in Māori Craft and Design at the Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua. During his final year he was introduced to the valuable medium of pounamu (jade) and was immediately attracted to its artistic possibilities. Māori had always valued pounamu for both its hardness and for its translucent beauty. Lewis was no different — as he says, “Our tupuna (ancestors) have given us, the Māori people, the resource and knowledge base to provide a reference for us and our children for years to come”.

In 1995, he became a full-time jade and bone carver specializing in traditional Māori imagery. Since then he has established his own business, which has enabled him to develop his own style and to shape other carvers’ perspectives on the use of pounamu. Winning the bi-annual Mana Pounamu Awards for contemporary Māori design in 1999, 2001, and 2003, further enhanced his reputation as one of the major jade artists. In 2003, he travelled to China to visit a master jade carver to source tools and study techniques to carve on a larger scale. This knowledge has influenced and enabled his ability to work on both massive sculptural forms as well as small delicate work. His unique sense of design and use of inlay, coupled with his ability to envision large-scale works — often using several varieties of jade — has set New Zealand artist Lewis Gardiner apart from many of his contemporaries.

Lewis is probably one of three New Zealand jade artists that can truly call themselves 'masters.' His design capabilities are the best in the industry, usually highly stylized forms based on traditional Maori design. Of all his work, his sculpture and hei tiki stand out for me. The sculpture below is one of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing forms I have seen carved in jade.

Garry Fairbrother

Born-and-bred just outside of Hokitika in the heart of New Zealand’s jade territory, Garry Fairbrother’s backyard was a very special spot – a place where spectacular and rare pieces of pounamu (greenstone or New Zealand jade) could be found. From a young age, Garry developed a passion for discovering pounamu, and at time only a small number of people were involved in the industry.

The magnificent pieces of pounamu he found soon inspired Garry to the art of carving. In his 30-year career to date, Garry’s artistic imagination and technical skill have combined to create some magical works of art, and his love for this valued stone is showcased through his high regarded carvings.

“I’m privileged to live and carve Jade in the same place as the mountains and rivers the Jade itself comes from.”

Garrys signature is a koru crafted into a beautiful oval shape . It exudes femininity. Of all his designs, these are my favourite.

Johnny Vroblifski

A ‘true blue Coaster’, Johnny Vroblfski has spent his life exploring the West Coast of the South Island – the jade capital of New Zealand. When he wasn’t fishing or hunting, Johnny was fossicking for treasured pounamu (greenstone or New Zealand jade). Today, his personal collection includes some of the finest specimens imaginable.

In 1970, Johnny followed his heart – and natural talent – to make jade carving his career.

Johnny's forte is in carving traditional twists of varying sizes, showcasing his artisan skill in perfect line accuracy, balance and finish. From the simple single twist, to complex quad twist, Johnny has made so many over his lifetime that he has mastered the process and design.

Jacob Sheehan

I'm the youngest of the three Sheehan brothers to follow in my father’s footsteps. I learnt to carve jade at a very early age, however it wasn’t until I completed uni that I began to get full involved with carving.

Pop in and say hi to me at Mountain Jade’s Rotorua jade carving workshop. My particular interest lies in the creative process of making jade jewellery rather than purely on the stone itself. I believe the mastery of the skills is crucial as a solid foundation on which to build the art I like creating.

My work is recognisable by the fluid curves that impart a wonderful softness and sensuality to the more edgy, contemporary pieces I try to fashion.

Luke Gardiner

Raised on the wild and rugged West Coast of New Zealand, Luke Gardiner still calls Hokitika home.

This self taught artist finds his inspiration in nature and has been re-creating it’s beauty in greenstone for over a decade. His connection with the wairua (spirit) of the land is evident in each of his designs, infusing his artwork with a peaceful, protective aura.

Pounamu is a living, flowing stone and Luke’s goal is to enhance this energy, which he does very subtly, with the fluid lines and soft finish of his pieces.

A vital part of his artistic process is to carefully assess each piece of jade before he decides which design it will best suit. Flawlessness, colour flow, inner light and visual impact are all important, but his gift for retaining the ‘essence’ and ‘feeling’ which the raw jade held, takes his work to a different plane. That his work ‘speaks’ to so many people is a tribute to his true love of pounamu and the deep respect he has for the spiritual energy it contains.

His reputation for fine craftsmanship and superb finishing ensures that when you buy one of Luke’s pieces you are purchasing a Greenstone Taonga worthy of being handed down through the generations.

Lukes signature is the fluid lines and soft finish seen on all his carvings. Among my favourite are his beautiful hooks carved into non traditional Maori shapes. Each hook looks like it has been held at the top and bottom, and twisted with the hands resulting in beautiful and unique shapes.

Bevan Climo

Words from Bevan Climo himself:

Kia ora. Being one of the "True Kaitiaki" (Natural gaurdians)of pounamu I have always been round pounamu my entire life. Though I didn't start carving till later it always was a fascination. I loved looking at the pieces in Museums that my Tipuna (ancestors) had done, mostly simple forms all done by hand. With the tools of today, it makes just about anything possible, the only limits being the brain.

I mess around with other arts as well having my own band, a 3 piece, we play all sorts of events playing what we call "Twisted Bluegrass" . With carving , I love the fact that whatever is made from Jade is around "forever" as this stuff don't rot in time.

I get my inspiration from my "Tipuna" and good ole "Mother Nature" which in turn brings the "Art from the Heart."

Richard Moor

Richard has worked as a jade carver for the past 15 years of his life. He was attracted to jade as a medium because of the sense of permanency. He found that pounamu had more to offer him than he could have imagined. Through jade he has discovered and defined himself as a person, a teacher, as kaitaki of pounamu and as a New Zealander, Ngati Pakhea, who identifies strongly with Maori culture. His contribution in return is his art, his mentorship/incubation of other carvers, and his passion for the stone.

Richard Moor is old school. He may have been in the jade carving industry for 16 years, but he was one of the first carvers to truly push the mould with jade carving. In my opinion, his forms initially have roots in Maori design, and as carved, evolve into a completely contemporary realm. 

 

Becoming a Jade Carver

It takes a special type of person, someone with an endless supply of drive to carve such a hard stone into pieces of jewellery and sculpture. The carver has to be patient. Depending on the complexity of the design, it can take between four hours to three days or more to complete a single necklace. They must have the ability to sketch with a design intent. To project the design in their head through their eyes, onto a piece of paper or stone, and sketch it accurately. And they must have the drive to finish each carving to the highest standard, because only then will the stones true beauty shine through. It's a labour of love, and a process which is immensely difficult yet highly rewarding. When you hold in your hands that finished piece of carving, I swear there is nothing more satisfying. It is this level of difficulty that means only the most determined and committed artist can improve their craft.

Four more jade carvers

This is my personal snapshot of the 20 jade carvers and their work that I respect and enjoy. For those with a keen eye, you will have noticed that there are only 16 of the 20 listed. There are five more jade carvers I'm struggling to contact, so if any of you can help put me in touch with the jade carvers you think should be on the list, that would be much appreciated!

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