Adze factory

March 10, 2014

Within a recent project, we explored Māori cultural form through the design of two major objects; a wall based on archaeological profiles of middens, and a path composed entirely of Māori adze forms. The latter involved a huge amount of research, following which the composition of it was carried out at a scale of 1:1 (due to the complexity of working with these forms). This garden is featured in the latest issue of Landscape Architecture NZ magazine.

The end result (made from Timaru Bluestone) is shown below (left), whilst the photo to the right is of a tree that is an important part of the narrative of the path, Broussonetia papyrifera (or aute, as it is known in Te Reo). These images, and the last two images within this journal entry, are provided by David Straight.

The beginning of the process involved discussion with a friend, Michael Shepherd – an artist who has an enormous knowledge of Māori culture and New Zealand’s social history. Michael made an important contribution towards determining the scale of our units, as well as drafting how the forms would be interpreted from the ethnographic material that we researched.

Over several decades, Michael has acquired considerable personal experience of original adze forms, and therefore understands how they feel (as well as being able to outline the significant features of individual adze forms, such as the method of hafting or whether they have a tang).

After Michael and I had drawn and cut a quarter of the templates (cut from thin mdf, at Michael’s suggestion), I finished the remainder of the templates. We endeavoured to provide a wide representation of adze forms (from different periods and uses), as well as including fragments, rough-outs (partially-worked adzes) and aberrant examples that do not conform to typical forms. During this process, Michael suggested that our path be called ‘adze factory’ – as that describes how we were going about our work, as well as referring to the fact that adzes would have been made in given areas by the craftsmen that traditionally made them.

Once all of the templates were cut (of which there were necessarily many more than we needed), Michael and I worked on the composition with our templates. We established a flexible means of how they should relate to each other, from which my employees at that time, David McDermott and Winston Dewhirst (both graduates of Victoria University’s Landscape Architecture school) finished the layout (to a very accomplished standard). David and Winston then numbered and photographed all of the templates, and Winston measured them all for a cut sheet to send to the stone supplier, Timaru Buestone (to order at approximate rectangular modules to avoid wastage and cost).

At this stage, the only thing left to do was make some noise, and I cut all of the pavers (on all four sides) with a nine-inch angle grinder. We needed a method of lightly sanding the cut edges, which one can do with either hand tools or a smaller angle grinder. The disadvantage of a small angle grinder is that there is less control. Therefore, we decided to grind the edges with a grinding/polishing stone (pictured, below right) that we had sitting within the office (simply as research, regarding landscape character, for another job).

The type of stone that we used was akin to a sandstone, which is ideal for a hoanga because it is sacrificial and therefore does not chip the main stone. Towards the end of the process, we noticed that the hoanga was assuming striking grooves as a result of the action of the grinding. On the last stones, David accentuated this so that the hoanga became a beautiful object in its own right. We gifted this to our clients, and they have mounted it on a wall in the house.

Finally, returning to that aute tree that takes pride of place within the bed of Muehlenbeckia above the midden wall, there are three forms of a very rare artefact within the adze path. In the image below, the fourth main stone from the right is a patu aute, a New Zealand form of tapa cloth beater. Because aute became very rare (and subsquently extinct) following Polynesian settlement of New Zealand, there are very few of these patu aute in existence. We incorporated forms of three of the only extant examples within the path design. This is of personal significance to one of our clients, for whom aute is a special plant.