Te Puia’s Wanaga Whakairo, dedicated to the art of carving

Carving, or whakairo, is one of the most beautiful Maori art forms.  Te Wanaga Whakairo, the carving school at Te Puia, is dedicated to passing on the art of whakairo and keeping it alive.

Carvers at work in Te Wananga Whakairo
Carvers at work in Te Wananga Whakairo

One of the most important tools that the Maori brought from their homeland in Hawaiki was the toki, or stone axe. They found, in Aotearoa, a land rich in timber and with the toki, they shaped it into houses, canoes as well as a thousand implements and weapons for use in daily life. Also with the toki, they decorated almost everything with intricate carvings or whakairo.

Over the years, other carving tools evolved and so did the art of whakairo or carving. New Materials were used, like the pounamu, or greenstone found in the South Island But its hard brittle texture proved a challenge and greenstone taonga (treasures) were rare and priceless. Then, with the arrival of the Pakeha settlers in the 19th century, a steel tools were introduced and with them a whole new range of possibilities. But still, the faithful toki played an important part in the art of whakairo or carving.

At Te Wananga Whakairo, Te Puia’s Carving School, the toki is still used as a method of blocking out heavy work.

Te Wananga Whakairo, or carving school at Te Puia was established in 1967 under the leadership of Master Carver John Taiapa. Since then, each year, the school takes in a fresh group of young apprentices for training in the prestigious art of whakairo. And although they are  trained in a variety of techniques and tools, the toki is still used as a method of blocking out heavy work.

Visitors to Te Puia can watch the carvers and photograph them as they work.

Some of the the work produced in Te Wananga Whakairo are on display and on sale in Te Puia’sTaonga Gallery and shop.