Please note – all photographs used in this article were taken with permission of Kerry Strongman, and the works themselves are copyright.
It isn’t often you have an opportunity to meet and discuss woodworking with a Maori Shaman, but while visiting New Zealand a couple of weeks ago, I got to do just that, in a small town called Te Hana.
As you drive north on State Highway 1, you pass through a number of NZ towns, some larger, some smaller. They all have a similar look and feel (and for those who grew up in NZ, very familiar, green hills, gentle winding roads (or not, if you are only used to the Australian dragstrip of the Hume! (and by that I mean long and straight, not fast))
After passing through Wellsford (and making sure you stop at “Jester’s” – their pies are unreal. Especially the Miss Muffet- a chunky chicken pie with Camembert cheese and cranberry sauce. Not available in Jester’s in Australia (and only then in WA), but it is unbeatable), you come across a small settlement, and on the main straight you see a mounted chopper motorbike.
Have a closer look though
It won’t be going anywhere in a hurry, being made out of timber. But even then, this timber has been around a while already – 25000-45000 years, and is swamp Kauri.
Swamp Kauri is not the species, it is a description of how it has been found. The ancient Kauri forests that grew in New Zealand (and there are still trees today) lived for upwards of 2000 years. They were (and are) the giants of the forest, and are similar to the giant Sequoia trees in California. They don’t have the same girth or height, but as the trunks don’t taper anywhere near as much as the Sequoia, they consist of a lot more actual timber. Some trees from 25000-45000 years ago at the end of the last ice age were encapsulated in peat, and were buried in swamps, and there they stayed. Protected by the anaerobic conditions in the swamp, it develops deep, shimmering streaks of iridescence and amazing chatoyancy.
As a master carver, Kerry Strongman makes incredible use of this stunningly beautiful timber, with carvings that are awesome in their own right, and magical when combined with the beauty of swamp kauri.
But Kerry doesn’t always stop there, and the use of clear and amber coloured resin in voids, often embedded with objects such as shells, minerals and kauri gum is a regular theme in his work.
The designs typically use the traditional forms of Maori carving – the Tanwha, the Koru, the Hei matau (fish hook), the Hei-tiki.
Another aspect of Kerry’s work is scale. Sure, you can have a carved piece of his (or his students’) that is small and worn as a necklace,
but the pieces that really blow you away are the ones made 6′, 8′ even 12′ tall. You do need deep pockets for one of those stunning pieces (or a corporate credit card!). These are known as “Jewelery for Giants” to coin Kerry’s catchphrase.
One of the first pieces you see when entering the showroom is this fish hook (I assume) of Maui (the legend is this warrior from Hawaiiki – the mythical ancestral homeland of the Maori, cast his line into the waters and when he and his brothers heaved upon the line, they caught Te Ika a Maui (the fish of Maui), these days known as the North Island of New Zealand. The South Island is known as Te Waka a Maui (the waka (canoe or watercraft) of Maui), and Stewart Island as Te Punga a Maui (Maui’s anchor) which held the waka as Maui caught the giant fish.)
Not only encrusted with kauri gum, it still has the rope attached at the top end.
In the third photo is Kerry himself. Around his neck is another of his carvings, although I sadly don’t have a close up of it, it is a ornate carving in mammoth ivory (or bone?). 250 million year old mammoth!
The rest of Kerry’s showroom is filled with elaborate carvings.
I was fortunate enough to also be given a full tour of the workshops and storage areas – an area many times larger than the showroom filled with works in progress, works yet to commence (raw materials) and everything in between. We are also both toolophiles, so were able to have a great chat about the tools used in the process of carving these works, and Kerry does not restrict himself to just using the traditional tools either.
It is hard to do the work justice here, so if you ever happen to be in the vicinity of Te Hana (or any of the corporate offices around the world featuring his work), take some time to have a good look. You can also check out the website at kerrystrongman.com
Not only was Kerry very generous with his time giving me a full tour, (and my daughter now has some stunning necklaces), Kerry has offered me a pallet of timber for me to ship over to my workshop. Can you imagine a pallet of timber from someone who really understands and appreciates the true quality of timber?! And if some was the magical swamp kauri…..well….! This is just a small example that I got years ago, just to give you an idea of what we are talking about.