There is something unique and special about the potae that Te Aitanga a Hauiti weaver Adrienne Stewart creates. The harakeke she is using to make her wearable art pieces are from the final remaining batches of flax that her grandmother, the late Madeleine Tangohau (nee Stirling) from Tolaga Bay, harvested and prepared.
It was by chance Adrienne found the shed full of harakeke in the back garden of her nan's home. The discovery strengthened her resolve to turn her weaving skills into a business venture.
“It was like Nan was giving me a sign to get off my chuff and do something with the skills she had handed on to me. It definitely gave me the kaha to get motivated.”
Her hats called Papa's Potae are based on the style of potae her grandfather Tame (Titi) Tangohau would make. Adrienne makes a wide circular sweep of her hand around her head to describe how wide the rims of her grandparents’ potae were for working in the maara kai “They were huge but very styley,” she says.
The mother of two teenagers can still remember the first time she sat with her grandparents as a young girl while they weaved their magic.
“I remember the smell of the harakeke and the good natured banter between my tipuna as their busy fingers twisted the flax fibres into potae and kete for the garden. I was only six but I knew weaving beautiful creations was something I really wanted to do. Nan taught me the three plait first and my love for raranga grew from there.”
Nanny Madeleine also taught her oldest mokopuna “how to respect” harakeke and the processes involved with raranga work. To extend her skill base, Adrienne enrolled with the Tairawhiti EIT programme Toihoukura and graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts degree for Maori Art and Graphic Design. She launched her contemporary style raranga label 'New Age Creations' a few years ago and business has been growing steadily since then.
Adrienne sells her harakeke items at cultural events and music festivals throughout the country and has the next national kapa haka competition Te Matatini in her sights as a golden opportunity “for making moolah”. She enjoys selling her products in the carnival like atmosphere of cultural festivals but “it is a lot of hard work”. Her aim is to take at least 3000 potae and other raranga (weaving) products including kete to Te Matatini 2017 which will be held in Heretaunga.
She is also tapping into a niche market in Australia for her kete and potae which she supplies on a regular basis. Her harakeke masks which depict the faces of Atua are a new raranga concept Adrienne has developed with help from national weaving guru Tina Wirihana. She hopes the art pieces will soon catch the eye of potential buyers.
“My life goal is to leave a legacy of art and financial wellbeing for my children. A nest egg so they can build better and brighter futures.”
Raranga work Adrienne creates varies in price from $20 to $120 for her potae, $50 to $220 for her kete and $500 to $4500 for her masks. Facebook is the first point of contact for potential customers and people with queries.
Singing is another skill in Adrienne's basket. She has toured in a number of bands throughout New Zealand and Australia, was a back up singer for Sir Howard Morrison and Hinewehi Mohi and is a veteran kapa haka performer for national champion teams Waka Huia and Waihirere. Adrienne is the eldest child of Adrian and Horowai Stewart from Tolaga Bay. She was born and raised in Gisborne.
To contact Adrienne about her harakeke creations visit her facebook page and send her a private message https://www.facebook.com/adrienne.stewart.18