Meet New Zealand’s leading bone carver: Kerry Thompson December 15 2017

Meet New Zealand’s leading bone carver: Kerry Thompson

Kerry Thompson is New Zealand’s master bone carver with over thirty years of experience. His work is modern while also incorporating traditional Maori designs such as the matau (fish hook) the koru (unfurling fern frond) or torea (oystercatcher bird). Kerry’s bone carving can be immediately recognised as it often incorporates two colours, caused by a unique staining process. A process that he learned completly by accident.

“I was working on a stone carving, and I wanted to combine a high pallet and a matte finish on the same engraving. Instead of experimenting on stone, which is highly expensive, I decided to try it out on bone first. The result looked very different from what others were doing.” Kerry explains. It is from that moment that Kerry decided to stain his carvings, and has been doing so for the past thirty years.

Staining bone, however, is not an easy process. “It is very time-consuming and could take over two hours. First, I lower the part of the bone that I wish to dye. Then, I polish the parts that I wanted to keep white and mask it off. I then stain it with stained wood peat.”

While Kerry Thompson is well-known for his bone carvings, Pounamu (greenstone or jade) is his favourite material from which to carve. The mystique around greenstone, the value of the material and the challenges of working with the material are what first tempted him to try out carving jade. “While you can try out everything with bone without any consequences, jade is a lot more fragile. You have to watch for the fractures. Sometimes I’ve nearly finished a very nice piece, having missed a fractural crack that has formed and then it just breaks off.”


Carving inspiration from nature and design

Kerry gets his inspiration for his designs from an illustration of a bird or animal or a specific type of flow of design. Sometimes, the inspiration comes from the material such as when the wood or the stone has an odd shape. “I believe the design process is the most significant challenge for any artist. You can be excellent in the technical side of the carving process, but it is the design and the finishing process that makes a work good.”

Kerry Thompson got inspired by the carvings he saw in Whakarewarewa, a Maori village in

Rotorua, when he was five years old. While his initial desire was being a woodcarver, he felt that these carvings were “quite neat”. As a young boy, he gave it a go and started to scrape off some bone. A meeting with a greenstone carver and his brothers being carvers at that time as well, made him want to pursue a career in carving. Whether it is carving greenstone, bone or wood.



A long relationship with the Auckland Museum Store

Auckland War Memorial Museum has been selling Kerry Thompson’s work since he was seventeen years old. “I just made an appointment with the museum store, caught the bus from Rotorua, all the way up to Auckland and showed them my work. They loved it and bought everything I had, and it just went from there.” The cording shape, bird figures such as the hawk and the twists and the infinity patterns that he implemented in his work at that time are still used by him today.

Kerry Thompson’s carvings are one of the many items that you can find in the Museum Store. All products are carefully selected to represent New Zealand’s unique culture or to connect with one of the galleries. Every purchase made on the online store or in the museum helps the Museum to take care of precious taonga, carry out conservation work, make excellent exhibitions, deliver educational programmes - in our galleries and out in the community, support vital research - and continue to be a world-class museum and war memorial.

Kerry Thompson's work is available now in our online store, see below.

Koi Matau - Sharp Hook

Puapua - Breaking Waves

Mana - Strong

Ika - Fish