Master carver Clive Fugill recognised at Tauranga Moana art awards

By Kelvin McDonald
Photo / Supplied

Renowned master carver Clive Fugill (Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāi Te Rangi, Tainui, Te Arawa) has been honoured at the inaugural Ngā Tohu Toi awards for tribal descendants of the Tauranga Moana region on Friday evening.

The long-serving New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI) kaiako has dedicated 55 years of his life to the art of whakairo.

He was one of 12 artists who received the award for their contribution to transforming the visual experience of Māori stories and practices, a media statement Saturday says.

Fugill says the award is particularly special coming from the iwi of his ancestral home.

“It’s always nice to have your work acknowledged, but it holds even more significance when you’re being recognised by your own people.”

NZMACI general manager Eraia Kiel says Fugill has been enormously generous in sharing his knowledge and many talents.

“Clive has been an unwavering fixture at NZMACI for more than five decades, never hesitating to share his time and knowledge generously.

“He is a rangatira, a true leader and his students’ successes are testament to his commitment.”

Fugill did not initially think he would make whakairo his career, despite his early fascination with the art form.

“I have always been drawn to the beauty and storytelling in Māori carving, I would stare in awe at them on the marae, but I never thought I would one day create them.”

As a young child, he suffered, unknowingly, from poor eyesight, impacting his ability to learn at school. But he always had a natural way with his hands, and was often found by his parents carving pieces of firewood with his pocket knife.

“It wasn’t until I started getting migraines that my parents realised I was near-sighted. The day I got my first pair of glasses, the whole world opened up to me. But by that point, I already knew my talent was in art – it was then for me to decide which art pathway I wanted to take," Fugill says in the statement.

“By the end of school, I was tossing up studying archaeology or pursuing carving at NZMACI. Being so fair-skinned, we had to jump through a few hoops to prove my whakapapa, but on Christmas Eve 1966, I received my acceptance letter for the first intake of the carving school.”

In the 55 years that followed, Fugill has become a stalwart at NZMACI, teaching several generations of traditional Māori carvers, while also carving marae across the motu, and creating bespoke taonga for royalty, presidents and celebrities.

He has authored a book on traditional carving tools, illustrated with his own drawings, and is currently writing another book on the art of whakairo.

“For me, it’s so important we uphold the tikanga of the traditional art. While you may work within the parameters of tikanga, your vision and creativity is limitless.

“That’s what speaks to me and it is what NZMACI was established to do – passing on our Māori practices and ensuring we don’t lose that knowledge.”

Asked whether he has plans to retire, Fugill, 73, just laughs.

“Why would I retire when I love what I do? If I did retire, I would probably clean out my shed so I could do more carving in there.

“I’ve had an amazing career, I don’t have a single complaint. I’m in pretty good nick for 73 so I’m happy to keep doing this as long as they let me.”