Meet the carver - James Pirika
29 May 2020

Meet the carver - James Pirika

James Pirika is an emerging New Zealand pounamu carver who has learned his craft in our Rotorua studio working alongside leading artists such as Tamaora Walker and John Sheehan Jnr. His designs are inspired by his culture and heritage, and he's known for carving bold, powerful pieces. 

We're proud to support James and love following his journey as he grows as an artist - watching closely as he develops his own techniques and individual carving style. With his latest designs just added to his online collection, we thought this would be the perfect time for you to find out a little more about James and his passion as a carver.


How did your journey as a carver begin?

Carving for me started straight out of high school, the plan was, I'll work for a year then figure out what I want to do. I got offered a job at Mountain Jade, packing boxes at first, but this soon lead to an opportunity to actually work with the stone making keyrings.However, the novelty of drilling the holes in keyrings soon wore off and one day I was asked if I wanted to carve something, which of course I did, who wouldn't? I jumped at the opportunity and never looked back!



The really cool part of this story is that I grew up knowing Mountain Jade as my mother had worked there for around 12-years. I used to spend time at her office hanging out and doing little jobs like putting cords on pendants, but at no point did it ever occur to me that I was going to be part of the Mountain Jade family, let alone a carver.


But that's the thing about jade, you don't find the stone, it finds you, it calls to you - so I didn't know I was going to be a carver, but it did.



What was the first piece you ever carved?

My first pieces were toki, which I carved under the guidance of Tamaora Walker and John Sheehan Jnr. John's father, the owner of Mountain Jade, seen these toki and must have thought I had potential as I was offered the opportunity to work full-time and learn the art form with Tamaora as my mentor. 


Where does your passion for carving come from?

My passion for the stone and the art form comes from my cultural and ancestral connection to it as a Māori. I am humbled to be able to share what I learn, and a very important part of my culture, with people from all over the world. I love showing visitors why pounamu is so much more than just a stone.

Also, knowing that one day the pieces I carve will help future generations learn about who they are and where they come from, a physical and spiritual connection back to their ancestors and their roots, just as the old carvings are for us today.


Where does the inspiration for your designs come from?

Inspiration for my designs comes from many different places, whether it be our old stories, legends, beliefs, or the world around us. It also comes from the other artists that I work with. 

I always want to better myself and create new things but without losing that key ingredient of tradition and meaning - the symbols we carve have whakapapa (genealogy), just as we do, and it's important to me that this is echoed through what we carve today, no matter how new or contemporary, the design should still have a traditional base.



How do you continue to grow as an artist?

Over time my art has developed and gotten better through practice and a lot of trial and error. It is still growing and developing everyday, through new ideas and being more bold. I learned what I know largely from Tamaora Walker. The way I keep learning is by continuing to push myself and my designs further, to be more ambitious with my work under the guidance of Tamaora, but also by trying new things and working it out as I go.


One thing Tamaora told me which I find helpful when trying new designs is "nothing is hard, only new and one day if you practice and keep trying it will no longer be new".



Explore James's latest designs here, or discover work by our other talented New Zealand artists

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