Meet the carver - Tamaora Walker
Tamaora Walker is a Rotorua-based carver who regards pounamu with a reverence and respect born of his Māori heritage. Familial ties to the Te Arawa tribe deeply influence his designs but he has also exhibited overseas and studied the work of international carvers.
How did your journey as a carver begin?
My journey as a carver began when I was 17, back in 2004. I had no job and was just about to become a father when a female friend of my uncles seen a piece of bone I was carving. It just so happened that her son, Lewis Gardiner, was one of New Zealand's best known pounamu artists and was starting his own carving business. Lewis was looking for some young trainees to teach – so she told me to go and see him. I was pretty nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but eventually, I built up the courage to visit him - and he told me to come back in two weeks to begin training. From the very first day, we got straight into carving. The first design I learned to carve was toki, then hei matau, koru, manaia and finally tiki.
I worked under the tutorship of Lewis for around 7-years, and it wasn’t until around 10-years into carving that I began developing my own style that wasn’t influenced by my mentor. Lewis always pushed us to design for ourselves and create our own style, he always wanted us to grow.
When my work began to look like the quality of Lewis's work, I knew I was ready to develop my own style as an artist.
What was the first piece you ever carved?
One of the earliest pieces I remember carving was actually a custom piece for my partner - I designed and made it myself. It was a combination of a heart, koru and niho (tooth) form and I was very proud of the result considering I'd just started carving. It's cool to see your designs worn by those important to you.
Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?
I get a lot of my inspiration simply from my portfolio of work and the number of years I’ve been carving. The different designs I’ve developed over time influence what I carve now - and will continue to guide what I design in the future. The traditional arts and the fundamental designs of my culture also inspire my work - as does the work of other artists. All those things coming together shape my inspiration for the next carving.
I don’t really have a favourite design that I love to carve - I love it all - I guess my favourite piece is always the one I’m carving at that moment in time. I try to put that energy into every piece.
What do you enjoy most about carving?
I get the most enjoyment out of creating large sculptures, just because of the scale and the amount of material that you use to make them - I love it. I actually entered one of my sculptures in our local Rotorua Museum Art Awards - and was selected as a finalist.
The concept for the sculpture – a shield form - came from the shape of the stone itself. I wanted to utilise the whole slab of stone, and I could see the shield form in its shape.
The shield was a portrayal of protection, also embodying the idea of family lineage and an extension of one’s self. At the time I was carving the piece there was also a big environmental push around the world, so the shield also made sense in terms of protecting the environment. The manaia was included as a kaitikai or guardian symbolising ancestral knowledge and affirming the principles of preservation. Then I wanted an element that represented our people and the balance of all things - that’s all the koru in the centre of the piece. It took around six weeks to carve and it is now on display in our Auckland Airport store.
The piece as a whole talked of our responsibility to gather the knowledge and tools needed to create a safe, sustainable way of living for future generations.
“Knowledge of the past upholds the present and creates what has yet to come.”
Do you enjoy being a mentor?
I enjoy being a mentor, and it’s great to watch James develop. I try to teach by example and never really tell him how to do things - rather I show him what to do. I’ve always encouraged him to ask questions if he wants to learn – if you don’t know, you’ve got to ask! It’s good to see James coming into his own, and I can now see a combination of my style, as well as his style, in his carvings.
What does the future hold?
I want to go bigger and do large scale sculptures - that’s the dream anyway. I’d love to do a large piece with jade or any hard stone. You often see impressive sandstone sculptures but imagine how beautiful they would be with jade. Stone has always been my preference of material, I can carve wood and bone, but stone is more beautiful, more timeless – and it will be around forever.
What drives me as pounamu artist is knowing that everything I create is forever. Just like diamonds but with mauri (life force) that will carry our art form into the future. So I’ll just keep pushing my style with stone.
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