For the last few years Jane Allnatt has carved two or three birthday keys each year. But when a key reflecting Samoan culture appeared on her website she was inundated. She has made 17 since Christmas.
“The response was unexpected.” she says. “I was a surprised lady and I’m not Samoan.”
Over the past 15 years Jane has entered the National Wood Skills competition, sponsored by the Kawerau Enterprise Agency, 60 times and has picked up awards for 40 of the entries.
This year she won the carving/sculpture open category “curtain call” with a jester carved into a curtain, and the Rugby World Cup “Kiwi dream” category with a kiwi sitting on a rugby ball wrapped in the black and white All Black flag.
But the highlight was winning the peoples’ choice category against a wide variety of skills including furniture, turned spheres and Maori carving. Her entry was called “cuckoo’s nest” and featured a cuckoo carved into the top of a folded umbrella.
Jane’s workshop is the dining room at her Cockle Bay home, which she shares with husband Jim. She was inspired by her father who worked as a commercial artist and carver. Over the years she has worked on a variety of media from copper repousse, which she taught in a Bucklands Beach hall, to leatherwork and cake icing. But for the past 15 years, wood carving has been her passion.
Giving young people “the key of the door” on their 21st birthday is less fashionable among Europeans these days, but is still embraced by the Pacific Island community.
When the families visit Jane to discuss their key, she asks them to bring a tapa cloth design that is relevant to the family giving it. She has had to undertake a study of pyrographics, which is burning a design onto wood, and how to carve intricate tapa cloth designs.
“Some want rugby or touch balls on the key, girls want flowers and some want a music record or shells,” she says. “They might ask for something specific to the person, the more individual it is the better for them.
“The problem with keys is that there are so many ideas so it is difficult to make it look clean and not overdone.”
Orders for keys come from throughout New Zealand and Australia and Jane has carved a combination Maori/Pacific Island key. They don’t all want a key shape and she has carved some as a paddle or a canoe.
“Now some people want me to put photos on them [the keys].”
It takes a week or two to work out the approach depending on the design, she says.
“When they pick up the key they are so excited. When it is at design stage it is just a flat drawing, but when they pick it up it’s three-dimensional, often with wood burning to represent the tapa cloth.
“Pacific Islanders like their keys carved and there are no other carvers around doing this. So it looks like I’ve got a market, I’m it.