Creative Travel in Kiwi Country: Bone Carving Workshop in Nelson

“Hi Elena! Great to hear you’re back in New Zealand and of course you’re welcome to join my workshop!” – Words like these are music to my ears, taking me straight to my next creative travel experience here in New Zealand! Stephan Gilberg, also known as “The Bone Carver” in the city of Nelson in the north of New Zealand’s South Island, originally hails from Germany and has been living amongst the Kiwis for more than 20 years now. It is almost as long that he has been teaching travellers such as myself the art of bone carving. And it really is an art, deriving from an ancient tradition of the Maori people, New Zealand’s indigenous tribes who first used whale bones for their own carvings. “The bones that you can see here today are cow bones. I get them once a year from the butcher here. My job is to then clean them thoroughly, using only natural treatments and allowing them to dry off completely over several weeks & months … I just love working with ‘warm materials’ such as bone or wood, having originally started building guitars and becoming inspired by the Maori people to carry on with bone carving here in New Zealand”, Stephan tells us his own personal story during the four-hour workshop here in Nelson.


“Nice and slow … You have to feel it, become one with it … Easy, that’s it! And if you are stuck or not sure, just call me: I am always here to help you out!”

What I really love and appreciate about Stephan’s workshop, is his constant inspiration & happiness in teaching his passion of working with bones and the creativity that lies inherent in this art form. Indeed, each piece is so unique! Although we can always rely on the inspiration of the existing drawings & carvings in front of us, it becomes clear that each one of our maximum number of six course participants has brought their very own, individual ideas with them.

Los geht's beim "Bone Carving Workshop" mit Stephan Gilberg in Nelson! Zunächst ...

Off we go during our creative bone carving workshop with Stephan in Nelson! Inspired by what we see …


... beginnen wir mit den ersten Zeichnungen für unser individuelles Design ...

… we soon start by a first couple of drafts of our own, individual design …


Wie schon bei meinem ersten Besuch hier fasziniert mich erneut die Spirale, genannt "Pikorua", ein Symbol für Freundschaft, Liebe, Energie & Wachstum!

Just as on my first visit here all those years ago, I am again fascinated by the shape & meaning of the “Pikorua”, a Maori symbol representing friendship, love, support & energy!


Nachdem wir unser Design auf ein Stück Knochen skizziert haben, geht es ans "Eingemachte": Selbiges Stück via einer Art Laubsäge - Knochensäge auszuschneiden!

After we have finished sketching our design on a piece of hand-picked bone, the “hard work” starts: Cutting it out using a kind of small see-saw!


Der Blick auf Stephan's Knochensammlung verrät: Hier wird den ganzen Sommer über kreativ geschnitzt!

Checking out Stephan’s bone collection tells me that carving bone is second nature to him – indeed, no wonder that his workshop is ranked “Top Thing To To Do in Nelson” – good on ya, Stephan! …


... ist Stephan doch stets auf natürliche und geduldige Art & Weise zur Stelle, wenn es um Fragen oder Finessen an unseren Stücken geht.

… and most deservedly so, as Stephan really is all hands and ears whenever we need any explanation or help on our way.


This is me. 100% Creativelena! Floating between the nostalgia of my first ever bone carving workshop with Stephan all these years ago while living & working in New Zealand, as well as embracing the happiness of being on this current #CreativElenaRTW round the world trip is pure magic … It just all makes sense. I am creating my very own, personal, hand-crafted souvenir. I learn in a more in-depth way about the culture & tradition of the Maori people. I enjoy the creative atmosphere of giving birth to something new together with other, equally passionate people … the sparkling in all our eyes as we watch our carvings grow and develop, full of love and pride – it truly is, a most wonderful feeling.


Creative travel, it really is, a journey of self-discovery. Whatever chooses to express itself creatively through your work, it will always reflect your inner state of being and emotions – connected to the traditions and the culture of the place you are visiting. Like so, unique creations & connections are born.

Der gute Stephan ist Gitarren-, aber auch Brückenbauer durch & durch, sein Lächeln & seine Fröhlichkeit ansteckend.

Dear Stephan is a good example of this, having started building guitars and now “building bridges” thanks to living his passion.


Alle arbeiten wir fleißig ...

We all work away happily under his expert guidance …


... alle bis auf ...

… all of us except …


... diese junge Dame hier! ;)

… this young lady here who prefers instead resting on my tummy. After all, a creative break is always needed right. 😉


Und immer auch ist Stephan zur Stelle, wenn es um besonders knifflige Dinge wie Bohrungen oder heikle Schliffe geht ...

And Stephan is always there for us, too, especially when it comes to the trickier parts such as drilling a hole or using new tools to create effecs.


Gut in jedem Fall, dass es die modernen Werkzeuge & Maschinen gibt! Früher ...

Thank God in any case for the use of modern electric machines! Back in the days …


... so erzählt Stephan, haben die Maori sich mit anderen Werkzeugen wie scharfen Steinen oder natürlichem Schleifpapier wie festgewordener Vulkanasche, genannt "pumice", zu helfen gewusst. "Es hat einfach alles viel länger gedauert", erklärt uns Stephan.

… according to Stephan, Maori people used whatever tools were available to them, such as this hard rock cut into blades for carving, or pumice as a natural sandpaper for smoothing out the edges. “Everything just took much longer way back then”, he tells us. “Much much longer!”


Fast schon sind wir fertig: Heute haben wir uns alle für die Verzierung unserer Schnitzereien mit schillernden Stücken der neuseeländischen "Paua-Muschel" entschieden.!

Today, however, we are almost finished after only a few hours, all of us choosing to incorporate a beautiful piece of “Paua” shell carving into our bone!


“Each workshop is different. It really depends on the participants! I love to work with each one individually and help them to create their very own, unique pieces of bone carving. The feeling of pride towards the end, it has always made everyone happy”, Stephan muses. I could not agree more. Working away for a good four hours, I did hardly notice the time go by what with our increasingly fascinating, beautifully polished works of art.


Words such as “WOW … I like it. I love this!!” grow more & more frequent. And the smiles on our faces … they just wouldn’t go away!

Psychologists call it “flow“, this very unique state of mind where we find ourselves evenly challenged, floating in perfect harmony between creative thinking and physical ability to reach our goals. A sweet spot for happiness, I call it. And will never grow tired of recommending creative travel as one means to this end, such as this unique experience here in New Zealand!


“Your piece is called ‘Pikorua’, Elena. By wearing it, you charge it with ‘Mana’ – strength, power, and spiritual belief according to the Maori people. In the end, you will give it to a very special person …

… your grandchildren! Your partner? Your best friend! Simply someone truly special … Because each person that wears it will charge it with their own, individual energy, making the carving richer and richer over time. When it finally comes back to you, it is worth a whole lot more than you could ever imagine – such is the spiritual willpower of traditional Maori belief …!”

What a beautiful, strong point of view !!!

Kurz vor dem Fertigwerden wächst unsere Aufregung und unser Stolz ...

Shortly before finishing, our excitement – and pride starts to grow …


... kommt doch ein wahrlich einzigartiges Stück Tradition & individueller Kreativität zum Vorschein!

… as every piece is a unique combination of traditional Maori culture, enriched by our own sense of creativity!


Ich glaube, ein bisschen stolz darf ich schon sein ...!

I daresay I am a little proud of having transformed the original piece of bone into THIS piece of art in just over four hours …!


VIELEN DANK, LIEBER STEPHAN !!! Der heutige Tag bei Dir hat mir echt viel bedeutet.!

THANK YOU SO MUCH, DEAR STEPHAN !!! Spending this day with you has really meant a lot to me.!


Uns allen denke ich! Von links nach rechts: Kreative

And to all of us, I believe! From left to right: Creative (and happy) bone carving workshop participants Selina & Theresa from Germany, myself as well as the cool twin brothers Jack & William from Boulder, Colorado! Well done everyone!


Learn more about the fascination of creative travel and my current creative round the world trip here: #CreativElenaRTW! 😀


rebecca wurzburger 29 December 2014 - 15:34

And I continue to be amazed by your creativity and your passion for creative tourism and


fondly, Rebecca

Fabrizio Ranzolin 29 December 2014 - 17:34

Que bela arte!!! Muito sensível, “and soft” !! Com a sua jornada vai encontrando não somente a beleza do mundo, mas também sua espiritualidade universal…
2015 de muita luz!!!


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