Navigating the art of whakairo

Riverton-born Maori carver Steve Solomon never expected he would end up in the career he is in. Photo: Tracey Roxburgh

STEVE Solomon describes his introduction to whakairo (Maori carving) like growing up with a family of mechanics.

When you spend enough time in the garage, it starts to grow on you.

“You start twisting bolts and pulling things out without thinking to be a mechanic when I grow up’.

“But that’s how I started carving.”

The Riverton artist first picked up a chisel when he was 18 years old.

At the time, he did not think much of it and was more interested in other things people his age were doing.

It was not until his poua (grandfather) asked him what his future plans were, he decided to take it more seriously.

“He asked me what I was doing when I finished school and I said ‘I dunno’.

“He goes, ‘ah well, you’re coming down to the shed with me then’, and that’s when it officially started, I guess.”

With four generations of Solomons in the seaside town, most of the males in his whanau had tried their hand at whakairo, either as a hobby or a full-time career.

“I guess I followed the family path.”

While the interest “clicked” straight away, it took a while for him to see it as a potential career.

However, after several years of working at the meat works, he thought to himself, “it’s not going to get much more fun than this”.

Eventually, he found a whakairo course at Te Wananga o Aotearoa’s Rotorua campus.

For two years, he travelled to the North Island to study once a month during the weekends.

“I made progress to the point where I could carve more efficiently and effectively, and get a better understanding [of the art].”

Once he had got a handle on the theory, he would take his work back to his iwi, Kai Tahu, to learn its story.

For Mr Solomon, whakairo was a continuous journey of growth taking on advice from whanau and other Riverton carvers along the way.

In 2017, he landed his first big gig when master carver James Rickard took him on to help carve the Mataura Marae.

The 11-month project gave him a better understanding of how to oversee large-scale projects standing which led him to have his work scattered across the south.

Now a seasoned artist in residence, he recently made the move to Queenstown to create pieces for Remarkables Park Ltd.

Wherever his career would take him, the goal was always going to be to continue to develop as an artist.

“There’s no clear pathway, you just have to navigate your way through.”Asics footwearAsics Onitsuka Tiger