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Tiki Central Forums General Tiki Mai Kai - Tiki Archeology
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Mai Kai - Tiki Archeology
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 27, 2004
Posts: 2396
From: So FL
Posted: 2007-12-09 4:13 pm   Permalink

First of all - Props go to Wplugger (Will) for initiating this.

For about a year now Will has been making copies of the Mai Kai tikis from molds that were created some time in the past. He has found newspapers in the molds that date back to the late 50s. Whether or not the date is correct?? - the foresight to create molds of such a large volume of tikis/artifacts was pure genius. The investment that was made in Oceanic Art must have been spectacular. Perhaps the writing was on the wall that the tikis would not last in the humid and hot environment of South Florida. Will roughly estimates that there are at least 100 molds in storage. PLUS - some that were right in front of us every time you walked thru the gardens.

Please show your images of the inside garden...

I also need a picture of the white tiki that led to small dining area inside the waterfall area. More on that later.

When you walked into the inside garden from behind the stage, on the right hand side of the banister was a small non-discript brown tiki. To most it looked like some really funky Pop Tiki - It wasn't! In reality it was a small tiki that had been enclosed in a rubber mold. It had been buried up to his chest in dirt and mulch. Will knew what it was and asked to see what was inside!! Permission granted!!! Here's what it looked like.

The brown skin on the outside is paint on top of a rubber skin. The whole thing was very light and we feared that the tiki inside had been eaten of rotted. Remember the rubber must be at least 30 years old and no one had a clue what was inside. The skin came off with some struggles but the tiki inside was well preserved. Here it is skinned.

The tiki is really unique. Any help identifying it would be greatly appreciated. The tiki apparently was painted. The paint had turned to dust/dirt but the wood was in decent condition. This guy had some damage that had been repaired - we guess for the mold making process. The skin had preserved the tiki perfectly from when it was placed in the rubber. He needs some help to restore him - but how cool. The skin is still intact and with some work, Will should be able to use the mold. Here are some glamour shots.

There is more to this story. I will update after dinner.


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 27, 2004
Posts: 2396
From: So FL
Posted: 2007-12-09 6:23 pm   Permalink

Ok dinner is done and I can move on with this story.

For years there has been a medium-sized tiki in the OUTSIDE garden that made you look twice - "What the hell is that!" It stood next to a small path that leads into a small courtyard in the Rock Garden. It looks like someone eventually came along and painted the outside - how do we know - there are eyes painted on the outside. Similar to the smaller tiki that was inside it was a wooden tiki with an outside rubber skin. Will and I have looked at this one several times and we really wondered what was inside. When you tap on the outside it sounded solid. Something had to be inside, but what condition was it? The tiki had been cemented onto a faux rock pedestal so it was not something we could check. When we asked what was inside, once again no one knew. Remember these things have been around since the 50's and there is no one left that knows the answers. After some prodding Will talked them into removing it from its pedestal. Here it is...

Look familiar. There were high hopes for this one, till it was loaded in the van, ANTS came pouring out the bottom. Oh crap! Well, the bottom was soaking wet and very soft. We started peeling and our fears were NOT met. The inside had been perfectly preserved!!!! Even though the tiki had been outside so SO LONG, the rubber skin had kept the moisture out and the ants were only in the base. So we peeled and peeled and peeled and peeled... That rubber had been on it for DECADES and it wasn't going to release easily. Here are some progress pictures.

Looks pretty nice! Will and I are so pumped that we intentionally made ourselves stop and regroup every few minutes. We had two goals: 1) remove the tiki from its rubber tomb 2)preserve the rubber for future casting. My fingers hurt so bad right now, from working the rubber off the wood and out of every little crack. 3 hours later we had reached the end. here is the treasure that we found...

The wood is rock solid and gorgeous! The tiki had been so well preserved that there are even pencil marks on him from when it was carved! He had been in that skin for DECADES and he looks like he was just carved. We are very stoked at this point. He needs very little cleanup to get some of the more stubborn rubber off and maybe some rejuvinating oil. Here are some detail shots...

Any info on this guy is welcome as well. This was a blast and a lot of work! This was my first opportunity to do some urban archeology and it has gotten me more enthusiastic to give Will more help in his restoration project. I hope that everyone gets a chance to check him out after the final cleanup is done. Well that concludes our tiki treasure quest.

If you have any pictures of either tikis in their spots please post them.

[ This Message was edited by: AlohaStation 2007-12-09 18:33 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 03, 2002
Posts: 5311
From: Hapa Haole Hideaway, TN
Posted: 2007-12-09 7:57 pm   Permalink

It is in the style of a Papua New Guinea spirit hook. I would tend to say it is a real spirit hook just because the detail is way more than Oceanic Arts or any of them would do. The figure in the head, would probably be a crocodile. Hard to tell in the picture. None of the commercial places would do that kind of detail work. I would bet its a real one, but it still could be a copy. It if was real, it would have been painted with natural pigments. I'd need to see more detailed pics to tell. The symetry is off, which isn't likely for the real thing, and the figure in the head and the tongue don't seem right. Really hard to tell for sure. And, of course, it the base piece is part of the whole, its not the real thing. The hook looks a bit small. I'm not sure from pictures.


Tiki Calendar for 2008

[ This Message was edited by: Swanky 2007-12-09 20:00 ]

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 27, 2004
Posts: 2396
From: So FL
Posted: 2007-12-09 8:00 pm   Permalink

There was no paint. The figures on the head are BIRDS. One on top and one coming from the mouth. Hopefully, once it is clean up The Mai Kai will display it somewhere - because it is a very cool carving. Thanks.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Nov 12, 2002
Posts: 7918
From: Huntikington Beach
Posted: 2007-12-09 9:48 pm   Permalink


As for the rubber, we use to use dish soap on the exterior to help with the friction when pulling it off the casts or, originals. I'm sure now days there is some sort of lube made just for that.

Keep up the good work!


Bamboo Ben
Tiki Bars I've designed/built. TikiCat, Royal Hawaiian, Kona Club, Frankie's Tiki Room, Pacific Seas, Don the Beachcomber,Forbidden Island, Kon Tiki Tucson, Tiki No,etc....

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 07, 2005
Posts: 1566
From: Mass.
Posted: 2007-12-10 02:49 am   Permalink

That is AWESOME but I'm still a little confused as to your intent. He's not going back IN a rubber cocoon , is he?

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Chip and Andy
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 13, 2004
Posts: 2277
From: Corner table, Molokai Lounge, Mai-Kai.
Posted: 2007-12-10 05:43 am   Permalink

Did the mold come off clean enough to cast some more?

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Sep 27, 2004
Posts: 2396
From: So FL
Posted: 2007-12-10 06:46 am   Permalink

RevBen - Thanks for the info, but, that part of the project is done. I wonder if it would have worked because the rubber had been on there for so long. There are small boogers that are hanging on - is there an easy way or chemical solution to clean those off?

Pappy - the intent was to free a tiki from its rubber tomb. AND have a mold that duplicates can be cast from. A lot of work went into creating these molds.

C&A - the mold has a few small issues but it is in great shape for casting.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 24, 2003
Posts: 1207
From: McKinney, TX
Posted: 2007-12-10 07:45 am   Permalink

Dug out this pic of him from a few years ago in his original location


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Jul 23, 2003
Posts: 2158
From: www.crazedmugs.com
Posted: 2007-12-10 08:55 am   Permalink

You kanes absolutely are rocking the Mai Kai.
I love it. Wish I could help paint or peel or mix drinks or something.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1784
From: Orlando
Posted: 2007-12-10 09:48 am   Permalink

Unbelievable. You guys ROCK! That is so cool! The unearthing of King Tut had nothing on this.

Isn't it wierd/odd how rubber encased tikis ended up out in the gardens in the first place? Sounds like maybe when the Mai-Kai first bought all these tikis and someone made molds of them, some of the rubber encased tikis got set aside in storage and maybe forgotten about. Then someone pulled it out of storage when the original tikis needed replacing and plopped it in the garden, not knowing it was encased in rubber. Just a theory. I guess you guys have found the ultimate way to preserve a tiki outdoors... mummify it in rubber!

I'm with pablus. Wish I could be there to help out in some way. I sure hope they display that guy in the INDOOR gardens this time.

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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Aug 20, 2004
Posts: 1784
From: Orlando
Posted: 2007-12-10 09:59 am   Permalink

Here he is yelling "Let me out! Let me out!" to a group of unsuspecting diners.

And, by the way, that first tiki you unearthed is quite the looker too. Especially the profile.

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uncle trav
Tiki Socialite

Joined: Apr 27, 2005
Posts: 2276
From: Kalamazoo
Posted: 2007-12-10 4:49 pm   Permalink

Is this the "white" Tiki? My night at the Mai Kai got a little foggy

I think this is the area behind the stage. over to the right? Hope this helps out.

"Anyone who has ever seen them is thereafter haunted as if by a feverish dream" Karl Woermann

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Tiki Centralite

Joined: Nov 15, 2002
Posts: 51
From: Davenport, Florida
Posted: 2007-12-10 5:17 pm   Permalink


I will be taking my very first trip to the Mai Kai from Orlando at the end of January. I am going to make a weekend of it.

I am so excited to finally get to the Mai Kai!


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Tiki Socialite

Joined: Mar 25, 2002
Posts: 11594
From: Tiki Island, above the Silverlake
Posted: 2007-12-10 11:09 pm   Permalink

What a great story of Polynesian pop archeology! Unearthing mint condition artifacts from their "cocoons"! And finding OVER 100 MOLDS of cloned South Sea ancestor art, that is like the opening of King Tut's tomb!

I have to wait to get home from Africa til I can delve into my slide archives but I know I have some pics of the Mai Kai's interior garden. That "crude" Tiki you show first sure looks like a personal attempt at primitive art, but perhaps I will find it in my vintage primitive art book library, maybe HERE: That PNG spirit hook is so detailed, it might very well come from THE most influential book in mid-century Tiki style:

"Oceanic Art", published in 1954 by Pantheon N.Y.

This book, with its full page, crisp black and white photos by Friedrich Hewicker was one the few books available at the dawn of the Tiki period. In fact, it was the name-giver to the fledgling Oceanic Arts in Whittier at that time. Consequently, quite a few pieces from their catalog were based on the photos in the book, which sometimes showed two views of a carving, facilitating more accurate copying in lieu of the original. And so, art copied from the book could be (and still can be) found in many Tiki Temples all over America.

Note the irony: (As you might be able to tell by the photographer's name), the 1954 printing actually was the English edition of a GERMAN book, which was published before in Germany. What is it with those German photographer's and their influence on American Polynesian pop !!?

The reason I am harping on this book's historic value is that, after Will was kind enough to seek my counsel on the correct coloration of the casts he was making, he has been sending me pics of his work, and I noticed that 90 % of these molds must have been made from carvings whose originals are pictured in that book! The timing fits perfectly, like I said, from the mid to the late 50s there were just a couple of these kind of books available as source material.

Case in point: Got to page 150 of Tiki Modern: I took that B+W photo of the amazing Rarotongan Tiki from "Oceanic Art". (So are the photos of the Hawaiian drink bowl on page 60, and the Caroline Islands goddess in the first chapter...AND the B/W photo that was the base for the Mauna Loa menu cover in the menu chapter in the BOT). Now here is one of Will's casts:

I already ordered a copy of the book to send to Will in appreciation of his work, to send to him when I get back home. Though he won't be able to tell the exact coloration of the pieces, (because all the photos are in black and white_, now the Mai Kai and its little helpers will have the correct lineage information for them, because all the plates have descriptions in the back of the book!

When I get home, I will post a series of images from the book together with photos of their Poly pop "children". Here is one of a different spirit hook that I happen to have in my computer files. I think Oceanic Arts made a mask from it, does somebody own one and can post it here?:

I wonder if it was George Nakashima who had the idea of having these molds made, or if it was the Thornton brothers. We cannot ask George or Gabe anymore, but maybe Miss Thornton remembers something?

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