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Thames carver Rika Turoa will take part in Ngākau O te Rākau Oki - The Heart of the Oak 2023 Carving Symposium. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Historic oak memorialised in sculpture

It was once the site of school photos and assemblies; the long arms of a 100-year-old oak tree sheltering the tamariki at Te Kura o Te Kauaeranga Thames South School.
But with the old tree cut down for the sake of the students’ safety earlier this year, organisers of an upcoming carving symposium say the oak will have its history memorialised through sculpture.
Ngākau O te Rākau Oki – The Heart of the Oak will bring together sculptors from around the Thames Valley and beyond for a carving symposium that will transform the tree’s trunk and limbs into works of art.
“It was important for us to keep hold of those memories of past pupils, teachers, and everyone that had a connection to the tree,” one of the organisers André Barlow told The Profile.
She, alongside Tes Rae, Jo Murray, and sculptors Rika Turoa, Darin Jenkins, and Jocelyn Pratt, all said they had their own memories of the tree – which had become a taonga for the kura.
“Those trees have been there since the school has been here, and so everyone who came here had to pass under the trees,” Rika said.
A Thames-based sculptor, Rika said his great-grandkids were the fourth generation of his whānau to witness the welcoming beacon that was the grand oak.
He held a stone carving symposium back in 2009, so instead of selling pieces of the tree off as firewood, he and the others opted to run a similar event, using the body of the felled oak.
Now, professional carvers from Hauraki and around Aotearoa will start transforming their pieces from April 17, with the symposium culminating with a public auction on Sunday, April 23.
Carver Darin Jenkins said working on the oak would be a “privilege”.
“It’s all coming from the heart; it’s not about the pūtea [money], it’s just artists having an ability to create.”
From 2pm until 6pm each day of the symposium, members of the public are welcome to watch as the carvers work on their pieces.
And, in addition to supporting the artists in their creative work, some of the funds raised during the symposium will go to Te Kura o Te Kauaeranga, to assist with further learning opportunities for the tamariki.
“The idea is to put out the best artwork with the resources we have,” Rika said, “and by using the oak, I tend to think we’ve got a good shape going on here.”
DETAILS: Ngākau O te Rākau Oki – The Heart of the Oak 2023 Carving Symposium, April 17 to 23, held at Te Kura o Te Kauaeranga Thames South School. For info contact the committee via Tes Rae: