Pounamu a ‘lifelong passion’

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Five Questions With . . . Expert carver Pounamu carver Gavin Thomson held a workshop in Alexandra recently. Pounamu carver Gavin Thomson, of Gore, was recently in Alexandra to share his skills at a Central Otago Reap workshop.

Q How did you get into pounamu carving?

Pounamu has been a lifelong passion for me, starting at the age of 6, when I found my first piece of pounamu on our family beach, Whareakeake, just out of Dunedin.

At age 12 I saved up and purchased myself a crude grinding machine, which I taught myself to carve pounamu with.

At age 16 I left school and moved from my home town of Balclutha and moved to the West Coast, where I spent a year at Tai Poutini Polytech refining my carving skills.

Q What do you enjoy about it?

Through the stone I get to create family heirlooms or taoka [taonga]/treasures for people.

Our company is Murihiku Pounamu, which stands by the motto “rongoa mo te wairua” – “medicine for the soul” – because the treasures I create are not just jewellery .. they are to express their love and appreciation for loved ones.

It is also a way of staying close to ancestors, lost loved ones or is a means of which to connect back to their Maori roots.

Q Where have you been passing on the skill over recent years?

I started passing on my knowledge to the whanau class at West Gore School and from there word spread and I was invited into Longford Intermediate.

Then I became a tutor for Reap, teaching children from various schools.

I have [also worked with] polytechs, Corrections Department and also [do] public workshops.

Q Can you share a success story that you have seen come out of pounamu carving?

A woman I worked with, a Kiwi who lived in Australia but was on the streets as a child . . . became a manager of a large gold-mining operation only to find out she had a terminal brain tumour.

She wanted me to make a taoka/treasure to give to her friend who had gone with her to radiation and chemo treatment.

It turned out that, through her life, she had lost her three children and both her siblings. She was truly alone.

I created the taoka for her to gift to her friend and I also created a free manaia carving for her to connect her to her lost loved ones. It helped her connect with them and [she] felt fully comfortable with the journey she was about to embark on.

Q If you weren’t doing carving, what do you think you would be doing instead?

I am not sure what I would be doing as carving and pounamu is my life, and it is hard to imagine life without these two.