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.”
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.
“For four years straight, 10 to 40 people would show up every Tuesday and Wednesday,” said Fleming. “What makes mine unique is we’re having a tiki party once a week. And when I can’t do it, we would ‘hijack’ some other peoples’ house and it would be the ‘traveling Rumpus Room.’”
Gick and Fleming are far from the only local enthusiasts.
“I think it’s just an escape,” said Kevin Murphy, a fellow tiki enthusiast and Glendale resident. Murphy or “Murph” as the tiki community knows him, also owns a home bar where the tiki community gathers frequently, called the Waikiki Womb.
“It’s really fun because you’ve got carvers, mixologists, bartenders and seamstresses,” said Murphy. “ All walks of life: young and old, rich and poor. That’s what’s most fun about the tiki scene.”
Alexandra Duncan is a freelance writer.