by CATHIE BELL
Carving has been how Jim Davis has brought his appreciation of other cultures into the religious setting.
Now the 74-year-old Blenheim resident has had his life’s work recognised by the Government, being made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in the Queen’s Birthday honours for his services to Māori art, the Catholic Church and the community.
James Columba Davis, known as Jim, moved to New Zealand from Ireland in 1968, and has produced a range of traditional Māori carved furnishings and artworks for Catholic parishes throughout New Zealand since the late 1960s.
Mr Davis first produced a Pataka (tabernacle) for a new church in Stokes Valley and later carved Pataka for parishes in Wairoa, Motueka and Stoke.
He was a driving force behind the establishment of Tawhiti A Maru Marae in Wairoa, where he completed all of the carvings inside the whare nui and assisted with exterior carvings.
He designed the plan for the whare kai at Te Hora Marae in Canvastown, Marlborough.
On a voluntary basis, he produced carved panels with the names of everyone baptised at the parishes of Blenheim, Petone, Motueka, Waikanae, and Khandallah.
He has also carved other items for various parishes from lecterns to patronal saint figures. His carvings are also present internationally at locations in the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, Ireland, and the Philippines.
Mr Davis also produced the first Tokelauan-English Missal — the first major publication in the Tokelauan language, he said.
Within the wider community, he has been involved with the Nelson and Marlborough Hospices since 2004 as a biographer.
Such biographies are helpful for the people concerned in many ways. He set up the Menz Sheds in Waimea and Blenheim to provide social opportunities for older, isolated men, and is now a life member of the Blenheim Menz Shed, which he helped become debt-free and added an extension for light metal work.
Mr Davis said the honour was “pleasantly surprising”.
He said that, since he moved to New Zealand from Ireland just over 50 years ago, he has been interested in the multicultural nature of the community here. His carving has tried to introduce that into church buildings and decorations.
“Everywhere you go, church buildings are the same — the same sanctuary furniture, stations of the cross, patron saints
in a very European style. They show Jesus as a blond, blue-eyed man. No way was he like that in real life.”
Catholicism transformed the real Jesus into a European style and the Church into a European institution, Mr Davis said, and everywhere missionaries went, they told locals to discard their own signs and symbols.
“I guess I’ve been fighting against this all my life.” Asked if there was any particular piece he was most proud of, Mr Davis said he is proud of “everything really”.
“I have done a whole lot of things, I’m still doing a whole lot of things. As long as I’m standing above the ground, [I’d] better keep at it.”
Mr Davis also has a four-piece Celtic folk band — called “The Shamrock Touch” — which plays mainly in local retirement