Weighing more than 2300kg each and standing up to 7m tall, three significant pou whakairo (carved panels) have been installed at the entrance of the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute's new Wananga Precinct.
Located at Te Puia in Rotorua, the national schools of wood carving, weaving, stone and bone carving and bronze foundry are about to move into their new building, with construction work now turning to the transformation of the old carving school into the new gallery, ta moko (Maori tattoo) studio and administration space.
The entire Wananga Precinct will officially open in April 2018, however manuhiri (visitors) will be able to watch the carvers in their new environment from mid-January.
Carved from totara, the three pou whakairo each recognise a prominent carving style from the Te Arawa tribal area and are examples of the finest works from Ngati Whakaue, Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Tarawhai.
NZMACI tumu whakairo (head of school), Arekatera Maihi said it was the first time the three main carving styles of this area had been officially acknowledged in one place, recognising the legacy of expert carvers gone by and the whakapapa (genealogy) that had been passed down to present day carvers.
"There is not one person at this carving school, students and tutors alike, who hasn't worked on this kaupapa (initiative). From project lead and graduate carver, Grant Marunui, sketching the designs, to our staff and students working for months on the finer details.
"We believe these are the biggest carved pou in the country and we're proud to see them gracing the entrance to our new wananga and welcoming manuhiri into the heart of what we do."
NZMACI tohunga whakairo (master carver), Clive Fugill said the smallest pou had been carved in the local style of Ngati Whakaue and followed the design of famous Ngati Whakaue carver and ancestor Pukaki, however it did not depict him.
"The second pou, representing the Ngati Pikiao style of carving, is similar to that of Ngati Whakaue in its surface patterning, but offers a contrast in surface design with deep pakati (notches), adding movement to the carved piece."
The third and largest pou represents the carving style of Ngati Tarawhai, which involves a similar design, but has haehae, or grooves, that is much wider and bolder, with the pakati being smaller.
Fugill said carvers from Ngati Tarawhai were among the most prolific of all carvers from this region.
"Along with Ngati Whakaue and Ngati Pikiao, the three carried the torch of carving well into the 20th century.
"These carvers were key to the renaissance in Maori wood carving, supported by the work of NZMACI, which plays a fundamental role in keeping the art of carving alive, protecting, promoting and perpetuating Maori arts and crafts across New Zealand under its Act established in 1963."
The Wananga Precinct is just one part of significant site developments under way at Te Puia, which includes a new 300-seat whare kai (restaurant and function centre), due to open in July 2018, and a kiwi husbandry facility which will further enhance and enrich the visitor experience.
Manuhiri visiting Te Puia NZMACI will be able to access the carpark directly from the new Hemo Gorge roundabout once it is fully open, providing visitors safe access to and from the Te Puia carpark, as well as an underpass for pedestrians and cyclists.
In 2018, the roundabout will feature a 12m high sculpture, forming the southern gateway to the city. Designed by NZMACI tumu (head) of Te Takapu o Rotowhio (the National Stone and Bone Carving School), Stacy Gordine and the team, the sculpture aligns with the cultural concept of a waharoa (gateway), where before entering the area, the cultural significance of the place and its ancestors is acknowledged.