That Little Piece of New Zealand I Wear ...

  Hei Matau is a jade carving in the shape of a highly stylised fish hook typical of the Māori people of New Zealand. They represent strength, good luck and safe travel across water.  

 

Hei Matau is a jade carving in the shape of a highly stylised fish hook typical of the Māori people of New Zealand. They represent strength, good luck and safe travel across water.

 

Back in December, 2010, I went home to New Zealand after 8 years away.  It was superb.  I had stayed away too long but the value of that, if there is a value, was that I knew what I wanted to do and see, and what I wanted to take back to Europe with me.

I wanted something from the land that I love.  I wanted some New Zealand greenstone to wear next to my skin when I was far from home.

I researched jade designers and outlets online, and later I was so thankful I followed that impulse because it turns out that not all jade for sale in New Zealand is NZ jade.  Some is imported from China. 

I found Jayme Anderson's work and just knew that he was the designer I would like to buy from.

My jade necklace is Marsden jade, a place not far from the Hokitika I loved as a teenager.  But afterwards there were some things I wanted to ask Jayme about contemporary jade design. 

He very kindly agreed to answer my questions:

Jade is a magical material that somehow draws you in and doesn’t let you go.  Way back when I was studying art and design, I had the opportunity to work with different materials like wood, granite and steel but I was particularly attracted to jade and silver … to the combination of the two materials. These days, it's the variation of colours, the translucency, and the thrill of pushing the jade to its limit that really interests me and keeps me motivated.

To be honest, my Maori heritage didn't influence me while I was studying.  I was interested in looking at Maori art but never inspired to create wholly Maori art. Then, while studying at EIT, I found a book published in 1973 by Theo Schoon. The title was 'Jade Country', and it referenced generations of influential jade carvers.

At that time it was so unusual that I felt we were at the beginning of the contemporary jade carving revolution. It wasn’t until 2003, when I began work at the Jade Factory in Rotorua, that I started to experience an increasing interest in Maori design - probably related to the fact that it dictates the New Zealand market to a strong degree.

That's not to say I don’t have the utmost respect for working with the stone, and I do believe it has spiritual properties.

It turns out that I actually have a few artistic relations. Arnold Wilson was known for his contemporary wood carving and still has permanent work on display in the TePapa Museum. Para Matchett, who is most well-known for his Wellington Waterfront art designs, and then there's the next generation of Machett artist – Gina is a woman who has already exhibited her own contemporary take on Maori art. 

Sadly Arnold passed away in 2012 but he was a gifted and well-respected Maori Artist who, among other things, played an important role in the first exhibition of contemporary art by Maori Artists. 

I also like Celtic design, perhaps because they are difficult to perfect. I enjoy the challenge. I have always been keen on the carvers from the 70’s and, in fact, their creations make up the bulk of my private collection.

I like the designs most especially because they were different to the norm.  There were the mass productions, made and sold in the souvenir shops around that time. It was seeing some of the work being touted by the likes of Bill Mathieson Senior, John Edgar, Russell Beck that inspired me, and I continue to be inspired by artists like Donn Salt and Neil Brown, and I need to mention Charlie Wilson's Tiki's.

I prefer to call the stone Pounamu or Jade. I have this feeling that Greenstone doesn’t relay the importance or give the stone the respect it deserves.

I work with Marsden Jade. It's the reason I have a 10-acre lifestyle block in the heart of Marsden. And yes, I always recognize my own work. I think it surprises people when they realise that most carvers can not only tell where the stone is from but often the style of carver that designed it.

As for designing ... I might be working on a stone to create a toki but then realize it’s more suitable to as a hook. Or I can see a slice of Jade and instantly know it will make a beautiful twist design.

The availability of gold and silver at EIT allowed me to incorporate it into my designs however since moving to the South Island, and lacking access to friend's silversmithing workshop, my pieces incorporating silver and gold are currently limited.

I prefer using a three plait made from braided nylon for my cords. This creates a strong and durable cord worthy of my carvings.  I couldn't keep up with the cord demand so I contract it out to a local in Tauranga and they plait my cords for me. It means that the cords aren’t as cheap as I could find them overseas but I like to keep things kiwi when I can.

I haven’t taken my carving off for 5 years, at least, and the cord is still fine.

I moved to Hokitika because, at the time, it seemed attractive for a number of reasons. I had a long-term relationship break up and was working part-time for my dad. The thought of starting over seemed like a good one. The West Coast of the South Island seemed a good option because it's a Jade source. The cost of living in the area was attractive and there are a number of very creative people in the region. Of course the landscape of rugged mountains running down to the ocean is always going to be more attractive to me than city skyscrapers

I don’t have a large online presence. I get a little bit disheartened by copy cats in the carving world. I can create something unique and technically beautiful and within a month or two I will see the same carving being made by production carvers but without the same finish and quality.  It is humbling that people appreciate the designs enough to copy them but it’s discouraging when these designs are made from non-New Zealand stone or with a lesser finish.

Since obtaining a share in the Hokitika Craft Gallery I’ve been able to limit my wholesaling to select galleries and shops.  I’m sure I could make a more profitable living by selling online and pushing my carvings but the lifestyle and the ability to control the quality is more important at this time.

I create 600 – 800 pieces a year.  I don’t consider myself a production carver, as in someone of who can put out 1000-1500 pieces a year. My work is specific and technical and I am much happier to be known for high quality, unique work as opposed to copying another carver's designs and rushing to finish them.   I like the control I have over who retails my work even if it appears I lose some of the market

I have a closer relationship with the land than I really want, when I first bought the land it was just an overgrown gorse paddock with some native bush thrown in for good measure.  Over the years it’s been a big change as I've moved from simply mowing lawns to actually reclaiming land to make it habitable.

I’m not sure how much inspiration the land gives me, but I enjoy the physical side of it and am not sure I would be too keen to live too close to neighbors any more.  My partner is a photographer and before she moved to the coast she was far less interested in landscape photography than what she is now, so yes ... I guess the landscape does play a big part in our lives.