Honoured for services to Māori carving and bone art

By Jessica Tyson
Master carver Owen Mapp recognised for services to Māori carving & bone art - Photo courtesy of Mokau Bone Carving

Master carver Owen Mapp has been honoured as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to Māori carving and bone art.

Mapp played a key role in the revitalisation of Māori bone carving in the late 1960s and has travelled the world for his work visiting countries including Japan, Czech Republic, Austria and Austria.

He told Te Kāea he felt startled after being recognised for the award.

“As a pākeha working in a Māori world, to a certain extent, sometimes it’s been a bit of a hard road.”

He says a lot of his support has come from individual Māori and half of his work goes to Māori whānau and hāpu.

“The rest is a mixture of overseas collectors and New Zealanders.”

Throughout his career, he’s had support from Ngāti Porou kaumātua and kuia who taught him about Māori culture and carving, including an archeologist named Selwyn from the Coromandel when Mapp was in College.

“Selwyn took me under his wing,” says Mapp.

Later on, he was working in Wellington when he met Bill Kerikeri and his wife Mihi.

“These people are not carvers but they gave me a lot of background into Māori culture and encouraged me and what I was doing in the carving field.”

Mapp also visited the East Coast where he met master carver Pineamine Taiapa.

“He was a chap you didn’t have a discussion with much. You shut up and you listen, says Mapp.

“He didn’t teach me carving techniques or anything like that but he gave me a lot of things Māori surrounding the carving field and mythology and background of motifs and symbols.”

Mapp says the highlight of his career has been the connections he’s made, “as a carver both in this country and around the world.

“I don’t just carve, I do a lot of research in museum collections and with individuals,” he says.

As well as continuing his work as a carver he now teaches at Whitireia in Wellington.

Awards and achievements:

  • Mana Pounamu award for best jade sculpture, 2002
    Kapiti Arts Award, 2001
    New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, BNZ Art Award, 1989
  • Mapp became one of the few non-Japanese expert practitioners of Netsuke carving and was an invited artist at the Netsuke Exhibition annually between 1990 and 2011 with the Japan Carvers Association.
  • He was selected for inclusion in the 2002 Contemporary Netsuke Exhibition at Tobacco and Salt Museum, Tokyo by His Imperial Highness Prince Takamado.
  • From 2013 to 2017 he was featured in the Te Papa touring exhibition ‘Whales: Tohora’ throughout the United States. He has been a guest tutor for the School of Applied Arts and Turnov Museum, in Turnov, Czech Republic.
  • He has presented papers for the Worked Bone Research Group conferences in Austria and China.

His work has been included in a total of 46 international exhibitions and featured in 16 international publications, including four Japanese Netsuke books and ‘Taonga Māori in the British Museum’ (2010).