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La Crescenta resident carves his own tiki niche

Work in Polynesian art comes naturally to designer and knife-sharpener.

February 26, 2014|By Alexandra Duncan
  • When no customers are around, Peter Gick carves out some tikis at his knife sharpening stand on Foothill Blvd. at Briggs Ave. in his home town of La Crescenta on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. Gick also has his stand at the Glendale Farmer's Market on Thursdays.
When no customers are around, Peter Gick carves out some… (Raul Roa / Staff…)

Peter Gick was just trying to get an edge on his knife-sharpening business when he started carving tikis. It wasn’t his first project.

He built his own hang glider from pipes he bought from the hardware store when he was 19. Once building was complete, he brought out his homemade hang glider and jumped off a cliff.

When he did this, two things happened.

“One, I realized my own mortality,” said Gick. “And two, my dreams about flying stopped.”

Gick, a La Crescenta native, attended the Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena for photography.

Soon, however, he discovered there were too many photographers, and instead shifted to set design and construction, which he did for 25 years. When that business diminished, he got into his knife-carving business.

“I looked for something else and started sharpening knives,” Gick said. “When you’re sharpening a knife, you can get obsessive. It tickles a part of my brain. It’s therapeutic and when I don’t have a knife to sharpen, I’m carving a tiki.”

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Gick learned more about the tiki scene upon logging on to tikicentral.com, an online home of sorts for devotees of tiki design. The work came naturally for him.

“It’s not like carving a face,” he said. “It’s more like a mask.”

Kevin “Kirby” Fleming, who lives down the block from Gick, met him at a tiki convention called “Tiki Caliente” in Palm Springs. Fleming built a bar full of tiki and other Polynesian décor known to the tiki community as the Rumpus Room.

Fleming has been a tiki artist for about 10 years, carving and painting them for not only his home bar but also for paying customers. He said his first goal when he got a house was to build a tiki bar. The Rumpus Room was his way of getting art out there and connecting with the tiki people.

“Tiki is a mainland fantasy of Polynesia,” Fleming said. “It’s not authentic. It’s a Hollywood version of paradise. Disney did it with the Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise and that’s kind of why it’s so popular. All soldiers coming home from WWII wanted paradise. Tikis are the cornerstone of that. The décor mimics the fantasy of Polynesia.”

The tiki community has grown since then.

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