Inspiring the next generation

Tony Howse’s reputation as a sculptor continues to rise. At Kauri Cliff Art Gallery in Whangamata he lovingly hand carves stunning sculptures and furniture from salvaged kauri, mostly inspired by the natural environment - the place he enjoys spending most of his time.


But success has not been driven by any burning ambition for fame and fortune, but rather a belief in the importance of doing the things you love. At home in the Karangahake Gorge also, his philosophy is to spend as much time as you can doing the things you are passionate about, in his case music, art and gardening, and trying to inspire his kids to do the same. “I think kids tend to model themselves on what you do. So if you are dedicating yourself to what you really love, they will follow that example,” he says.


For this reason, Tony is especially excited and proud of the latest addition to the gallery team, with 7-year-old son Matthew, now also taking up the tools four days a week. “He was always into watching what I was up to and then started giving it a go himself. At first I just let him get on with it and figure things out himself. Now he’s letting me give him a bit of advice here and there, like making sure you turn the wood around. You have to look at the whole thing or you might be missing something. It can take a bit of time, just like looking at clouds, first of all you don’t see anything but after a while you start to see things emerge.”


While Tony is now doing a significant amount of work for overseas clients, particularly in Germany, Matthew is determined to make his own mark. He has even set up his own Facebook page, Matthew Howse Kauri Sculpture, and is becoming a dab hand at the customer service side of the business too. “He’ll hear the bell and go out to meet customers and give them all the information, then you’ll hear him asking if they’d like to come and see his work, because he has his own wall now in the gallery. He’s producing some really nice pieces, but the cute charm is also a definite asset, especially with the grandmas who come in,” Tony laughs.


Recalling when he first took  up carving more than 30 years ago, Tony said it was the love of the wood that provided the motivation. “People were gathering it for firewood. I couldn’t understand it, it was so beautiful and they were burning it, I thought there had to be a better way to use it.” While he has certainly honed his craft over the years, Tony still uses nature as a strong source of inspiration, with a particular love for native birds. Boats and yachts are another speciality, as are planes. But whatever the sculpture, it’s the story of the wood, that Tony is passionate about, something he takes great joy in sharing with his customers.


“I really try and give them a good experience, to give them an understanding of what New Zealand kauri is, how important it is to us and how it has travelled across the world. I think that’s a really important part of it and if they do purchase a piece they understand fully where it has come from the history behind it.” The end of summer and the inevitable drop off on visitors means its a quieter time at the gallery, but a continuing focus will be on the monthly workshops Tony has started and says most of his students have never picked up a tool in their lives.


“It’s usually around three hours and they just learn a phenomenal amount and what they walk out with is really impressive. I thoroughly enjoy it and it’s so exciting seeing what people come up with once they really understand how to find things in the wood.” While kauri is certainly one of Tony’s great loves, it is not the only one. Family is a huge priority, as is music with Tony involved with a couple of local bands while also finding the time to teach lessons to kids. Add the seemingly never-ending developments at the family business, Bullswool Heritage Farm and running an organic orchard and you might wonder where Tony finds the time and energy. The answer is a simple one, time is never really a problem when you are doing what you love.


Kauri Cliff Art Gallery is currently open Thursday to Sunday or by appointment. Click here for contact details. 


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