Lyonel Grant is a master carver. Lyonel graduated from the Māori Arts and Crafts Institute in Rotorua, a school set up in 1966 to promote the arts of the marae and wharenui. He has practiced as a customary carver and has three wharenui to his credit. The first, Te Matapihi o te Rangi (1985 – 1987) in Tokoroa, follows the model that Grant was taught at the Institute. It belongs within the flowering of customary culture in the 20th century under the guiding hand of Sir Apirana Ngata, a consummate politician and cultural expert from Ngati Porou who revolutionised the building and decorating of wharenui.
The second, Ihenga (1993 – 1996) in Rotorua is a very different kind of wharenui, in which Grant created a visual dialogue about customary culture, the weight of tradition, and the importance of social and artistic change. The third, Te Noho Kotahitanga at Unitec (2003 – 2009) was built from the ground up using ancient te ao Māori philosophies not seen in practice for 120 years. This wharenui whakairo was a return to tradition of carved elements providing essential support to the construction.
Each work Lyonel produces is a synthesis of emotion, lineage to the past masters, a statement of personal expression, and a product of mastery over the base material employed, for which Lyonel was awarded an honorary PhD by Unitec in July 2009.