Carving out marae’s place in world

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The men are bent low, chisels digging into the fine totara.
To their right is their quiet guide, carver Alex McLeod.
He is from Rolleston, but in the weekends he comes to Ashburton’s Hakatere Marae.
He is the guiding hand – the man with the artistic mind – behind a series of carvings being prepared for the marae’s new meeting house.
It is intricate work.
Mr McLeod picked up his first chisel when he was around 12, and 15 years on, he has worked around New Zealand.
He trained at Rotorua’s New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute, and now he is passing on his skills.
Several of the people helping him with his work at Hakatere are new to carving, such as Jim Benfell, son of marae veteran Janet Benfell.
He has been carving for just months, and he says modestly that Mr McLeod draws onthe design and ‘‘I just chip away’’.
Mr McLeod said it was often just him working in the meeting house.
‘‘All the designs and motifs come from the land, the wind, the nor-west, the mountains and the rivers, and the life in the rivers,’’ Mr McLeod said.
He hopes to have the carvings for the front of the meeting house finished before the end of the year.
Twelve pieces will be carved, all from West Coast totara, and eight are under way, and paintings are also being created.
‘‘My main purpose is to get it open. One of my main reasons is about the older people. I want to bring on the smiles.
‘‘I want to thank the volunteers, too – the carvers and the cooks. It wouldn’t be possible without them.
‘‘It’s taken a weight off my shoulders.’’