KENWARD, who says he is 40 years oldplus several hundred
months if pushedis the man behind the Great
New Zealand Paua Company, crafting jewellery from Bluff paua
and Mississippi River mussel shell.
Kenward’s jewellery is hand-crafted, using techniques
that expose the shine of the shells. He uses each part of the shell
creatively, crafting patterns from crosses to silhouettes that appear
almost alien. While the insides are polished to a natural green
and blue sheen, the rough bottoms are polished also to a gorgeously
smooth finish. The resulting pieces have a great deal of character,
with Kenward retaining the shells’ mutations in some cases.
Having worked with the cast and crew of King
Kong, he’s thinking of getting them interested in his work.
But it wouldn’t be the first time Kenward’s work has been in the
hands of celebrity. Twenty years ago, Frank Sinatra received an
award that featured a brass plate made by Kenward, during his time
in California and British Columbia. He doesn’t even mention this
until our second interview.
Kenward is a designer and entrepreneur who, for
years has been wowing his customers abroad, without shouting about
it. In North America, his hand-made brass bed was exhibited from
his living room-turned-showroom, and attracted customers willing
to part with a not unsubstantial sum. His brass work has included
staircases and glass racks at establishments in and around Palm
Springs, Calif., always made painstakingly by hand.
On returning to his native New Zealand, Kenward
continued his bed designs before hip surgery forced him to look
for other avenues for his creativity. Deluxe sheepskin rugs and
aluminum jewellery—polished to a mirror finish—followed before he
embarked on his adventure with paua. He even brought along to our
meeting several lengthy coloured pieces in a deep blue and green,
which had a natural shape, but we weren’t sure. ‘Guess what it is,’
he prompted. When we gave up, he revealed, ‘It’s dyed beef bone.’
The sheepskin rugs (the
Great New Zealand Sheepskin Company) are perhaps better known
to his international buyers in the US
and UK than locally. Working from
his home in Wellington, it’s probably a surprise for his neighbours
to know that the rugs have appeared in Playboy. His press
clippings have been saved but not in scrapbooks—he has a collection
of them in his home, sometimes folded into quarters in his wallet
along with photographs of his work over the years.
However, some might know that his home is base
to more than a thriving business in rugs and clothing. The Great
New Zealand Paua Company, run in the same premises, consists
of Kenward, who works outside each day. Natural sunlight helps him
work on each piece, and he has created everything from key rings
to earrings, and some stunning necklaces. There is a collection
of 3M wheels he uses for the polishing, and in a true entrepreneur’s
fashion he sees to some of the marketing and packaging himself.
His web site has been his main retail outlet, though he is exploring
more traditional forms of selling for 2005.
He is often guided to create each piece depending
on the paua shell, but many have a Kenward trademark. On some of
the edges, Kenward polishes the surface to reveal the growth rings
within the shell. It is completely natural and adds another dimension
to his pieces.
He knows of no one else who uses the technique.
How he accomplishes the look remains a secret. The paua’s breathing
holes are often left as part of the effect; sometimes he drills
through them for consistency or size, and sometimes he doesn’t.
One thing that strikes anyone who meets Kenward
is his calmness. It is unsurprising: he is not after fame, but simply
a chance to create and share his love of the work with others. Which
may be why the work is pure: not only do the items physically feel
substantial, they feel complete spiritually, too. •
this story with other visuals of Denis Kenwards jewellery
in the April 2005 print edition of Lucire, out in Auckland
on April 6 and other parts of New Zealand soon after.
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Great New Zealand Paua Company
On some of the edges, Kenward
polishes the surface to reveal the growth rings within the shell.
It is completely natural and adds another dimension to his pieces