James Te Kuiti Stewart
Ko Rongowhakaata me Ngai Tuhoe oku Iwi Ko te tarei rakau oku pukenga.
My first ever introduction into mahi toi (The working of art) was at the age if 14 in 1975 as collaborate restoration worker on an ancestral house of my Rongowhakaata tribal affiliations, Te Poho o Rukupo (The bosom of Rukopo). The name of this ancestor and houses that he had work associations too, sends reverberations of adulation through the carving and Maori art fraternity of Aotearoa.
At the age of 19 I began my career of Book binding that lasted through the turmoil times for that industry of the early 80’s. A far cry from carving you ask, not so far I say. 1989 I carved my first house for Makaura College.
In the 80’s and 90’s unbeknown to me I was building the art base that helped kick-start my full time interest that turned into a career and later an obsession in culture through whakairo (idiomatic speech for carving).
Moving around the North Island in the 90’s working as an art tutuor and absorbing unwritten fields of carving information from old artisans that would talk to me, I eventually moved home to Gisborne and reacquainted myself with Rukupo. All this accumulated into presenting a paper on “Aoteatea Whakairo” to respected Tohunga (Priest) Whakairo.
This was ny invitation to membership of Whakaruruhau Whakairo who were regularly contracted by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. I carved a further four houses in Maniapoto, Te Arawa and Mataatua areas.
In 2002 I enrolled onto a BA Whakairo degree with Dr. Pakiriki Harrison as our Head Lecturer. In 2004 we graduated with the first NZQA BA Whakairo in Aotearoa. I am a member of a collective group of graduate carvers called Te Whare Puwerewere (The House of Spiders).
I have been a Whakairo educationalist for 15 years and a student of whakairo for a lot longer. I believe that culture is reliant on education and education is reliant on stimulation. I will always endeavor to progress my personal world view, which allows me to link into other cultural areas.
We have a proverb in Maori that I hold close which is, “Hei pupiri te aho o te wananga, hei kawe i nga kura huna a rua” P.Harrison. ( Hold fast to the strands of learning hidden in the secret schools of knowledge)