Spirit Wrestler Gallery (Vancouver, Canada)

Toi Mauri • A Rising Force


  • Medium: kauri, granite base
  • Size: 20 × 8 × 8 inches (incl. base)
  • Reference Code: KC140301

As my carving career moves along I often think back to how and where it all began and the journey that has unfolded since then. The majority of that time was spent working together with my good friend Roi Toia.

I first met Roi in my graduating year of study at Waiariki Polytechnic in Rotorua. Roi was the wood carving tutor there and over that time I got to know him and became very much influenced by his style of carving. I would have to rate Roi as one of; if not the best technical carvers I’ve seen and his emphasis on precision was something that I was drawn to. After I graduated from Waiariki in 1995, Roi kindly invited me to carve with him out at his place, an opportunity that I just couldn’t turn down. By now I was totally enthralled with carving and so jumped at the chance to learn more and especially from Roi who was such a perfectionist.

In that first year we set ourselves a goal and worked towards an exhibition. The name of the exhibition was Reflections and the work we created for the show was in some way a reflection of the different stages, influences and experiences in our lives. We held the exhibition at the Rotorua council chambers in December of 1996 and for us the result was a great success. Not only did we achieve our goal but more importantly it was the genesis of our business venture Mauri Concepts and the start of our careers as full time artists.

We went on to work together for sixteen years and over that time forged our own path through sheer hard work, the will to create better works and the determination to succeed. As well as being my workmate, Roi was also my mentor throughout those early years and was the driving force behind our strong partnership. He had a clear vision that I quickly came to adopt and that was to represent our culture and the ancient art of whakairo with the utmost integrity and with a sense of duty that it so deserves. It became our foundation, and the emphasis that we put on the finish of our work was always paramount no matter what the size, shape or form. These qualities that I learnt from Roi are what I firmly maintain in my work today and will always encourage younger artists to employ these traits in their own practices.

After sixteen years of a great partnership my wife and I decided to move to Australia for a new life experience and a chance for our kids to be introduced and exposed to a different land and different cultures. Although it was one of the most difficult decisions that I had ever made, I think it was the right time for me to make a change.

Now we are back in New Zealand and Roi and I still regularly keep in contact. We developed a great friendship over the years and now our two sons have strengthened that connection by also becoming great mates. I guess our families will always be close and share the special bond that was formed simply by two young artists with an indelible passion for carving. I certainly feel that this important chapter in my life ultimately determined my existence as an artist today. Therefore I felt this story was more than worthy of being as they say “etched in stone,” or in my case “carved in wood.”

The two profiled figures on each side of the carving depict Roi and me. They are joined by a single head in the centre that symbolizes us both sharing the same vision and direction. The face is adorned with moko (tattoo) to illustrate the significance that whakairo (the art of carving) has within Māori culture and how it has enhanced our knowledge and understanding. The moko announces our pride of being Māori and our connection to such a deep and diverse culture to which we represent with respect and honor through our work as artists. The underlying form is that of the toki (adze blade) symbolizing the magnificent and ancient Māori art form of whakairo.

—Todd Couper

Todd Couper

Todd Couper


Ngāti Kahungunu

(1974- )

Todd attended Te Aute Boys College in Hawkes Bay from 1987 to 1991 and quickly excelled in art. In 1995, he completed the Diploma of Art, Craft and Māori Design at Waiariki Institute of Technology in Rotorua; he majored in woodcarving/sculpture and graduated with honours. It was during this time that he met Roi Toia, who was teaching there. Roi, impressed with his talent, invited Todd to apprentice with him. They continue to work together, but Todd has forged his own style and direction in carving, with commissioned pieces residing in collections in the United States, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. He participated in Kiwa: Pacific Connections (2003) in Vancouver, Canada.