“I have in mind a three-seater chair incorporating a waterfall,” explains the enthusiastic artisan. “You would be sitting in water, but it wouldn’t be touching you. That’s where my design needs to go.”
Mark cut his teeth in England carving rocking horses for discerning gentry. The heirlooms were taken on-board by high-profile royals, including Princess Diana and Princess Beatrice.
Using power tools, including an electric chainsaw, he carved a mystical chair and stool called Doodlewood from 38 planks of American tulip, laminated together to form a three-metre-high block.
But when the Pakuranga man moved to this country his love affair with the petrol-driven chainsaw began, which has expanded the techniques he can use, especially on large tree trunks. “I’ve been in New Zealand for nine years, but I had never touched a petrol chainsaw until I landed here.”
He’s committed to the Stihl brand, which has thrown up its own share of coincidences. Five years ago, Stihl New Zealand invited Mark to demonstrate his wood-carving talents at the Mystery Creek National Fieldays in the Waikato, but he was unable to get to the venue.
One day he went into the Bot Pots Botany Pottery Studio to buy a bag of clay, which he uses for his pre-moulds. He struck up a rapport with owner Richard Rushton, who was so intrigued with Mark’s work that he offered him space next to his outlet in Bishop’s Gate Business Centre.
The wood-carving pagoda workshop was set up last February and, to Mark’s amazement, when he looked across the road he found the Botany Stihl Shop opposite.
Since settling in, Mark’s major project has been work on a three-metre trunk, which was cut down at an East Tamaki property and “was looking for a home”. The owner of the tree, which was more than 100 years old, happened to be Ken Stevenson, chairman of Habitat for Humanity, the voluntary organisation that builds and renovates houses for people in need.
World Habitat Day is on October 3 and the Auckland group is launching a Habitat Build Challenge encouraging people to give or make something for others.
“We’re using what Mark has done as an example of pay it forward,” says Conrad LaPointe, resource manager for Habitat for Humanity Auckland. “We are challenging schools, individuals or corporates to build, say, a letterbox for a neighbour or a doll’s house for a children’s group.”
“It’s good fun,” Mark says, “walking into a workshop doing what I have been doing for the past 30 years, and people are able to watch and chat.”
In fact, people around the world have been watching. Mark's blog is attracting interest from forestry and chainsaw enthusiasts from countries such as Finland, where timber work is a major industry.
“They are watching the progress of this log,” Richard says. “We have a strong pottery and sculpture class here, which is all linked in with Mark’s work. We are creating an arts centre, and we can see it getting better and better. We have talented people of all nationalities in this area.”
Off-cuts from the macrocarpa trunk are falling under Mark’s chainsaw blade. “My old trade was rocking horses, so I’m thinking a rocking chair out of a lump off the tree trunk,” Mark says. And one of the branches has been turned into a stool, “a thinking chair”.
Another slab waiting for attention is likely to be crafted into a two-seater bench and a worn-out totara post is already waiting to move in as a backrest for the bench.
The Doodlewood chair remains in England. Efforts to have it displayed in celebrities’ houses, such as Elton John’s, failed to materialise and Mark says, “I would like to think I could get it shipped here”.
Meanwhile, other smaller works can be found for sale at Bot Pots. But Mark says: “I will keep on plodding, even if I give something away. You keep going with your dreams and passions. It’s not all about the dollar. There’s no end to the designs. When I’m working freestyle, I never run out of ideas. A lot of the ideas grow with me as I do the carvings.”