These slim volumes are two of a series of four, produced by Huia Press, in conjunction with the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute. While they really are small (54 and 44 pages respectively) they are packed with information.
Each has the same structure. The origins of the arts are explored – including the legends and traditional stories. There is a description of the materials used, the tools and techniques, the uses both traditional and contemporary, and some of the notable practitioners of the arts.
The weaving book centres on flax. Maori soon discovered the properties of harakeke “the wonder fibre”, and have used it to create a huge range of useful and decorative objects, including baskets, mats, housing materials, clothing, ropes, and fishing nets. The construction of these articles records histories and stories, and acts as a cultural record.
The book details the steps in selecting, preparing and weaving flax, and respecting the flax plant. The intricate patterns are described, and a wide range of finished products are described. As well as flax, some less traditional materials are shown in contemporary use, including plastic, wire, ribbon and paper. There’s plenty of detail here, although the book is not an instruction manual or how-to guide.
The carving book follows a similar outline, with an emphasis on the wide variety of carved objects produced using the same techniques. Of the uses of carving, most attention is given to carved houses. A significant part of the book deals with how to read a carving – seeing and interpreting details which reveal the history being recorded.
Throughout both books, Maori traditional stories and beliefs are incorporated, giving a broad picture of the place of carving and weaving in Maori culture. For me, a highlight of both books is the inclusion of the stories of practitioners of the arts, and something of the history and development of the art.
The text of each book is clear, concise and easy to read. Photographs make up a large part of each book. These photographs are magnificent! The production values throughout are high. Each book contains a glossary, a bibliography and a list of on-line resources.
Although these are not large books, they manage to include a great deal of information. Perhaps with the others in the series (Marae: The Heart of Maori Culture and Geothermal Treasures, Maori Living with Heat and Steam) they would make a fine introduction to Maori culture for many people who have seen museums, and perhaps visited Rotorua, but want some firm guidance and proper understanding about what they have seen.
Reviewed by Gordon Findlay
Maori Carving: The Art of Recording Maori History
by Huia Publishers and The NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute
Maori Weaving: The Art of Creating Maori Textiles
Huia Publishers and The NZ Maori Arts & Crafts Institute