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Thursday 23 Jan 2014
Kohukohu, New Zealand

Bone Carving with Jim Taranaki

I took the ferry across the Hokianga and drove around to Opanoni to meet Jim Taranaki, a Maori artist who has lived here for nearly 30 years.  His house was full of his carvings, intricate wooden plaques on the wall depicting seas, trees and Maori imagery. 

Jim got me started with a pencil and paper and asked me to think about the design I’d like to make.  I had a few ideas, but I was struggling to get them into a practical design, so he showed me some books of designs to help out, but really encouraged me to make my design my own.  I loved that he wanted me to come away with something unique and personal rather than taking the easy route of getting me to copy something he’d done before.  Time was no issue to him, he was happy for me to stay all day and we chatted easily as we both worked.  I finally settled on a design I was happy with.  Similar to my own pendant, I came up with a variation on the fish hook symbol, which is said to keep travellers safe, especially those on the water.  It also represents good fortune, prosperity and abundance.  This time, I wrapped the hook around and turned it into a whale’s tail.  I was designing it for my friend Christina, who I’d travelled and dived with in Australia and Mexico.  We were meeting up again in Bali in a couple of months so I’d be able to give it to her myself.  She has had a difficult couple of years and I thought it was time her luck should change.  I carved 2014 into the back to represent the start of a new year, a new adventure and the good fortune that should come with it – my own pendant has 2013 on the back for my year of travel.

Jim’s workshop was a small tin shed outside the back door.  Once I had settled on my design, he gave me a piece of bone to draw it out on.  He was keen that the whole thing should be my own work, so showed me how to use the small drills to cut out the shape.  Instead of using grinding wheels to take the excess off, like I had done last time, I did everything with the hand tools.  After each step, I went back inside to show Jim and he taught me the next thing.  Having cut the shape out, I used other drill bits to smooth down the edges and get a nice curve.  Jim was impressed at how quickly I’d done each step, saying I had a real talent for it.  I got instant visions of setting up my own carving studio at home one day, but that will have to wait a few years.  I again found the work very therapeutic and loved seeing the final shape emerge and get closer to what I had imagined for the finished article.  

Moving back indoors, I progressed to working with tiny hand files to add the detail around the end of the whale tail.  We had the TV on in the background and I found myself watching British quiz shows, alternating between shouting out the answers and asking Jim about his life and his work.  When I had shaped, filed, sanded and polished the pendant as much as I could, I persuaded Jim to do the final task of drilling a hole through the top for the cord.  On that one, I was happy to let his experience take over. 

I was thrilled with the final result and really proud that I had done (almost) everything myself.  It was very tempting to start again on another one, and Jim insisted I’d be welcome to do so.  Instead, I went to pay him for the session and realised with a dawning horror that I had not only forgotten to put any money in my purse, I’d actually left it sitting on the middle of my bed in the hostel, which could have been seen by anyone.  I was mortified that I couldn’t give him his money after he’d been so generous with his time and welcomed me into his home.  It would take me nearly three hours to go back for it and return, as the ferry only ran once an hour each way, but Jim was as laid back about this as he’d been about everything else and insisted I could leave the money under the mat the next day.

I drove back around to Hokianga and came over the brow of the hill just in time to see the ferry pulling away, so I had an hour to wait for the next one.  I had just enough money on me to buy a portion of chips and a drink, so I sat in the car and listened to my audiobook until the ferry returned.  Today was such a simple day, but one of my favourites.  I hope Christina lkes the pendant...


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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #4 New Zealand and Australia

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I had so much fun in New Zealand and Australia that I'm going back around again! This time I'll see more of the North Island and catch up with friends and family in Melbourne

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