NZMACI Master Carver James Rickard hangs up his tools after 55 years

With his signature durag, ready smile, and unmatched work ethic, Master Carver James Rickard has been a part of New Zealand Māori Arts and Crafts Institute’s (NZMACI) fabric since he enrolled in the first carving school intake in 1967.

Now, after 55 years of honing his skills and passing down his considerable knowledge to generations of carvers, Mr Rickard is hanging up his tools to spend more time with whānau.

Mr Rickard has not only dedicated decades of his life teaching the traditional Māori art form, he has been instrumental in creating hundreds of bespoke pieces that now hold pride of place around the world.

But, ever humble, Mr Rickard says there have been numerous hands involved over the years.

“It’s not about me. As a race, Māori have left our mark around the world. The pou maumahara gifted to the Passchendaele Memorial Museum in Belgium is an example of how, through our art, we have been able to create monuments that represent us as Māori.”

Mr Rickard says finishing the kūwaha that was recently gifted to Gardens by the Bay in Singapore allowed him to neatly tie up his time at NZMACI.

“I’ve been trying to finish up for the past seven years but there’s just never been a good time because of all the overlapping kaupapa.

“Now’s the time to go home. They want to build papakainga and a marae on our whānau land so that’s what I’ll do.”

Mr Rickard says he’s proud of how far NZMACI has come, and all the carvers that have come through the doors.

“NZMACI was established with the purpose of fostering and growing our traditional art to aid in a cultural revitalisation.

“I think that has been achieved, NZMACI has had a significant impact on the arts and we can be really proud of that.

“Māori are so clever in the way we adapt to new things; The momentum we have gained will continue as long as we keep adapting to new things, teaching new things.”

NZMACI General Manager Eraia Kiel says Mr Rickard has helped shape the carving school and will be sorely missed.

“The magnitude of Matua’s contribution to NZMACI cannot be understated. There is a piece of him in almost every corner of this globe and he will continue to be an inspiration to us all.”

Te Puia General Manager Sales and Marketing Sean Marsh says Mr Rickard has been one of the enduring faces of NZMACI and has been fundamentally important to the institute’s growth.

“Matua James has always taken care of everyone around him, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak or where you are in life – people have always been drawn to him and he has the special ability of being able to connect with everyone.

“We should all be aspiring to be like him, not necessarily as a master carver, but a person who is always willing to give more than he takes.”