Friday, March 19, 2010


Among New Zealand's many beautiful regions is the stunning Mount Aspiring National Park. It is a spectacular area with landscapes ranging from grassy river flats, and flowering herbs to glaciers, valleys and mountains. New Zealand is also home to featured jewelry designer Hepi Maxwell.

Of Polynesian ancestry, the Maori are the indigenous people of New Zealand. Art is a prominent part of their culture encompassing vivid and elaborate skin markings known as tā moko, as well as the distinctive and stunning figures carved into wood porch pillars of the ancestral whare runanga or meetinghouses.

To me, Maxwell's incredible journey into the profession of jade carving, after losing his legs in an accident, is one of courage and destiny.

His beautifully fluid and voluptuous pendants, the designs of which are based on Maori art are stunning examples of exceptional artisanship. However, Maxwell's matter-of-fact viewpoint of his latent artistic abilities is surprising.

"I am of Maori descent and my introduction into the filed of jade carving was not a childhood dream. I did not inherit an artistic flair from my father," he says.

"I lost both my legs in a truck accident and was faced with either finding employment that did not require legwork or living off the state for the rest of my days. The latter did not appeal to me. With absolutely no knowledge of carving. I responded to an ad in the local paper for potential jade carvers. The job became mine."

Through his company Creative Jade, for over two decades, Maxwell is one of New Zealand's leading jade carvers of jewelry items, and presentation pieces made with jade, bone, and totara wood.

"In 1982, I carved the trophy for the International Mastermind Competition and a little later carved a large ornament named "Kahurangi Kiwi" which became part of the Kahurangi Exhibition traveling the USA, Europe, and China."

Though Maxwell downplays his inherent gift for this art form, it is clear to me that this creative part of him, however subdued in his frame of thinking, was always living within him.

His creations, highlighting the traditional spirals and curls of Maori art, are so exquisite and the color of jade so pure, it amazes me he had no hands-on experience before beginning this career. I am also amazed that he feels somewhat confined in his creative process.

"Some of my carving career has been very exciting but of course many of my day-to-day routine involve hard, monotonous work. I must produce good, saleable work regularly so I often carve with a viewpoint to salability and customer satisfaction rather than satisfying my creative urge," he explains.

"On the other hand, this puts me in the very satisfying position of being able to produce work pleasing to the eye of both those who prefer to cling to tradition and those who appreciate contemporary styles.

I get to know the people who come to my workshop looking for something special. It is highly gratifying to talk with a customer and eventually present them with a carving that is "just right" for them."
Photo 1 (top right): Green Jade Hei Matau Pendant
Photo 2 (bottom left): Jade Family of Koru Decorative Piece
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