This craftsman is keeping an ancient art alive — one bone fish hook at a time

This craftsman is keeping an ancient art alive — one bone fish hook at a time

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Louie DeNolfo is captivated by the simple shape of a Hawaiian fish hook.

DeNolfo works on a replica Hawaiian fish hook. He carved it out of cow bone he bought at Petco.
DeNolfo works on a replica Hawaiian fish hook. He carved it out of cow bone he bought at Petco. (Hawaii News Now)

“Their shape is related to what they were used for — to fish,” he said.

DeNolfo is a bone carver.

He fashioned his first replica hook in 1969, when he saw one while studying art at the University of Hawaii.

That began a pursuit that's lasted 50 years.

As a bone carver, he has made thousands of fish hooks.

“I can make a bone hook in about 30 minutes,” he said.

As a younger man, he traveled to museums around the world and studied displays and drawings of ancient Hawaiian and Polynesian fish hooks so his work would be accurate.

Those images are the models for the pieces he carves.

"I don't stylize them." he said. "I don't add barbs where they're not supposed to be. I do it just they way they did it in the past. They were beautiful then and they're beautiful now."

Old methods utilized stone tools and shark skin.

DeNolfo uses handsaws and sanders.

Ancient hooks were often made of human bone and ivory.

"I just use cow bone. You can go to any Petco store and you can see the cow bone that I use," he said.

He also makes them out of pearl and abalone shells.

At the core, DeNolfo wants to keep the art of bone carving alive.

He's taught it here, on the mainland and across the South Pacific.

"When I first went to Tonga, there were virtually no handicrafts at all. No bone carvings at all," he said.

Bone carving is also his livelihood.

His creations sell for $80 to over $100 and have been displayed in hotels and businesses. They’ve been bought and worn by celebrities.

"Daryl Hannah wears one of my carvings. I carved a beautiful thing out of pearl shell for her," he said.

DeNolfo isn’t the only bone carver in Hawaii. But at 74, he’s definitely one of the more experienced.

See his work on his website by clicking here.

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