Lyonel Grant has an exceptional ability to trust his instinct in pushing the boundaries of a medium and can take a simple tool, such as the adze, and shape a waka hull, leaving precise, symmetrical lines. Having learned from time-honoured disciplines, he endeavours to advance the visions of traditional practice by using his own unique methods.
In the 1970s Lyonel was taught by John Taipa (master carver) at the Māori Arts and Crafts institute in Rotorua, graduating with an Honours degree, before becoming first assistant to the master Carver at the Institute. In 1984 he began an independent career with his early work focused exclusively on traditional Māori carving. Lyonel has undertaken several major projects including commissions from the British Museum and the National Museums of Scotland, the completion of three meeting houses, the Waitangi Sesquicentennial waka and participated in many international festivals, symposia, and competitions, both here and abroad.
Lyonel also combines his dual lineage influences while exploring western sculptural materials and techniques. To this effect, Lyonel was one of the concept developers behind the Gold Award Winning New Zealand entry of the Chelsea Garden Show exhibit in London 2004.
He co-authored Ihenga: Te Haerenga Hou: the evolution of Māori carving in the 20th century with Damian Skinner in 2007. The publication explores Lyonel’s second carved meeting house, Ihenga, at Waiariki Polytechnic in Rotorua and looks at the connection between customary and contemporary Māori art. It also explores how Lyonel has built on his heritage as a customary carver in Ihenga, creating a dialogue about the development of Mäori art, through his carving, into the 21st century.
Lyonel was awarded an honorary Doctor of Philosophy (Education) from Unitech Institute of Technology in July 2009. In the same year he was the recipient of an Arts Foundation Laureate Award. The Laureate Award is an investment in excellence across a range of art forms for an artist with prominence and outstanding potential for future growth. Their work is rich but their richest work still lies ahead of them. The Award recognises a moment in the artists' career that will allow them to have their next great success.