Long history of carving stories from wood

Queenstown-based master carver Steve Solomon delivers a public talk on his work, at  Wānaka...
Queenstown-based master carver Steve Solomon delivers a public talk on his work, at  Wānaka Library, last month.PHOTO: REGAN HARRIS
Art enthusiasts were in for a treat at  Wānaka Library last month, as the space hosted a free exhibition and public talk with Queenstown-based master wood carver Steve Solomon.

More than 30 people turned up to hear Solomon talk about his career as a Māori wood carver (kaiwhakairo), which has taken him from Riverton to Rotorua in the pursuit of honing his craft.

In the presence of a carving made by his grandfather, Alan Solomon,  gifted to the library about four years ago,  Solomon spoke of his family’s long history of carving, which had played a significant role in his initial decision to take it up.

"I guess if you were the son of a mechanic, you would become a mechanic even though you didn’t plan it or even want to be."

He added that despite some early ambivalence over his future as a carver, he "really gravitated" towards the work as his skill developed.

"It was the artistic side and the hand co-ordination ... I just felt like there was a lot of challenge but confidence in trying to take on that challenge at the same time."

Solomon said after several years balancing his hobby with other work and life commitments, he eventually made the decision to make a career out of it, and began training at Te Puia in Rotorua.

Among Solomon’s pieces on display were carvings depicting one of the South Island’s creation stories involving Ranginui (the Sky Father) and Papatūānuku (the Earth Mother).

He said the relatively abstract nature of the carvings made them ideal for storytelling settings in front of an audience.

"Traditionally, Māori art isn’t a literal depiction.

"With me having to be up here and speak about it, it also gives the need for an orator to speak on it.

"That also helps to keep the stories alive."

Solomon also answered questions from the audience on his use of style, symbolism, as well as balancing creative expression with adherence to traditional form.

Queenstown Lakes District Council community engagement librarian Paula Mitchell said the next artist to speak and exhibit their work at the library would be master weaver Roka Hurahia Cameron,  the exhibition starting April 26 and a talk on  May 1.

Those interested can get in touch with  Wānaka Library on (03)443-0410 or wanaka.library@qldc.govt.nz