I was born in the UK and moved several times in my youth, following my father’s career. After completing my schooling I worked for a couple of years before deciding I really wanted to become a geologist, and was accepted to study geology at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth (now Aberystwyth University). After completing my degree I re-entered the UK workforce and a year later left the country to begin my career in petroleum exploration. I worked in the North Sea and Libya, before returning to the North Sea for my safety (it's a long story), and was then relocated to Australia, where I lived and worked for the next 13 years.
My stay there was cut short by a lady I’d met. I decided to follow her to the Dominican Republic, and we then moved to New Zealand (NZ), Mozambique, Eire, Canada, South Africa and now back to Australia, staying 2 – 5 years in each place with her work. My petroleum career gradually died due to these moves and I needed something else in my life.
During our time in NZ, we attended a diplomatic evening at Te Papa Marae, Wellington. After the formal part of the evening was over I was discovered, caressing the large pounamu (nephrite) touchstone – it was calling me – by a lady who just happened to be the Public Relations Officer for Ngai Tahu, the traditional owners of all pounamu in NZ. She kindly put me in touch with someone who was to become a dear friend and mentor, Buddy Tainui, and his family, who live on the gorgeous West Coast of the South Island. And the rest, as they say, is history!
I met another carver, Steve Myhre; he also encouraged me to carve, gave me the opportunity to use his equipment and to absorb his knowledge (much of this is presented in his book, "Bone Carving, a skillbase of techniques and concepts", 2000 edition, published by Reed Books, Auckland), and he helped me to design and collect the parts of my own point carver. Roland Schütz, a Swiss engineer in Petone, near Wellington, let me do the simpler engineering work as he did the more complex, and by early 2002 my point carver was complete. I was ready to start the long trail to becoming a jade carver!
I was overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of Buddy & Steve, and notwithstanding the part that Maori carving culture has in this, it is a measure of the men involved, and I am profoundly grateful to them both for their support and friendship. The concept of sharing my carving knowledge is something I try to follow in my own life, but I'm finding it very difficult to meet anyone who wants to learn this art - sadly, it seems as if everybody is into instant gratification these days, and that you don’t get from jade carving! To help stimulate interest and the flow of information I have a "Carving Tips" blog on this site where I'm adding monthly items on how to carve. I hope you will check it out on a regular basis!
My travels have meant my work is widely spread and pieces are in Australia, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Eire, France, Germany, Italy, Mozambique, NZ, South Africa, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. And I've been lucky enough to visit several of the areas where nephrite is found. As a result I’ve met many fascinating people through the industry, including Deborah Wilson from Vernon, British Columbia, with whom I took a great carving workshop.
I’ve also been able to collect/purchase a wide variety of beautiful rough nephrite from Australia, Canada, NZ, Russia, Switzerland and the USA. And recently a piece I was told is from the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region. I hold my precious pounamu for Kiwis because of its strong cultural significance. And I try to be an ambassador for Maori culture wherever we are in the world.
My pieces began simply, using poorer quality stone and some fabulous offcuts, and gradually became more complicated and better finished as my experience increased. Many ideas have a piece of stone just waiting for them - other pieces let you impose your ideas onto them. I started with Maori forms, but branched-out into Chinese bi’s, cabs, modern pieces and animal/bird carvings. I like to think that my sense of humour comes through in my work, as in the “Protest Squirrel” I entered in Brian Matheson’s “International Jade Symposium” of 2011. As Cormac Cuffe, a gentleman from whom I took some silversmithing classes in Dublin, says, “Every piece must be special!” How right he is!
I have long been wondering about why there is no Aboriginal jade culture in the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia, where the majority of Australian nephrite is found. A comment from Niel Smith, who lives in Cowell, that the local tribes used locally abundant chert for spear tips, scrapers and knives may be the answer - it was quicker and easier to chip and knap the chert, and obtain razor-sharp edges, rather than grind away at nephrite for weeks, using a very scarce resource across much of the interior of the country, water. It makes sense.
I’d like to thank all the wonderful people I’ve met through carving for their kindness and generosity, and the help that they’ve given me. I hope I can repay them someday.
Thanks also to Rebecca Larsen (www.chatterbox.net.nz) for her great work in setting up this wonderful website! In it I tell the story behind each piece - and there is always a story: that to me is an important aspect of carving, which takes it away from and above being "just" a craft. It gives carving a cultural significance - and on that point you only have to ask the Chinese and Maori for their opinions!