Artist Profile: Phil Belcher

Ko Maungawharau ki uta
Ko Waingongoro taheke ki tai
No Waimarama ahau


Phil Belcher is a Kaiwhakairo (carver) and Kaiwhakaako (teacher).

“I believe in the relevance, integrity and reverence of indigenous Maori knowledge and the importance for it to exist beyond this current era. ”

Phil likes to push his own technical and artistic abilities without compromise. With over 25yrs of experience, from in-depth research, wananga (esoteric learning), to the manufacture and use of traditional tools. Using recycled timber and sustainable collected material; the final works are expressions of his values.

Brought up in the remote coastal Maori community of Waimarama, Phils’ work is influenced by the interconnected world of native forest, ancient landscape, and people. Phil is from New Zealand ancestry with iwi links to Kati Mamoe, and Samoa Pacific. Phil learned in an environment where customary Maori knowledge was practiced by the elders of the time; descendants of Ngati Kurukuru, Ngati Whakaiti, Ngati Hikatoa, Ngati Urakiterangi, and Ngati Pahauwera. He presents what he believes really matters.

During secondary education Phil was taught by Gavin Bishop (visual arts), Peter Robinson (sculpture) and tutored by Riki Manuel and Malcolm Hooper (whakairo). Subsequent post-graduate research and continuing wananga, under the mentorship of Dante Bonica (University of Auckland), particularly in the area of flaked stone-tool manufacture and the use of toki (adzes), has been a major influence in understanding the disciplines of the ancient masters.

Phil has a BSc (geology), PGDipMusStud, GDipTchgSec and has taught whakairo, the art of carving, at secondary and tertiary level: Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Ara Hou (2006–13), Eastern Institute of Technology (2003–05); And has also worked in Environmental Conservation and Museum Sectors: O le Siosiomaga Environmental Society, Samoa (1998–2001); Hawke’s Bay Museum (2002–03). Besides creating new work, Phil continues to deliver wananga for various organisations, youth and iwi/ hapu groups.

Phil does not use modern machinery to produce his work.

“I use a range of hand-tools I have made myself and a range of oxides from the earth, ground by hand to produce stain to finish wooden pieces. I also use boiled plant pigments to dye natural flax fibre using hot rocks from a fire. I use recycled timber blocks and collected natural materials from the native landscape. The timber forms are made using a range of steel and stone tools, toki (adze) and whao (chisels) that are self-made. The ivory and stone work I produce are also made by hand, no machinery; initially ground on a hoanga (wet-stone), shaped with sandstone files, and drilled with hand flaked flint tips.”

The works that Phil produces and his tools, have a direct link to the natural environment, the only thing that has ‘touched’ them in a sense, is the time taken by the artist to form them. It takes longer to make work this way and it is rear for craftsmen these days to produce without time constraints.