Welcome to the Tiki Central 2.0 Beta. Read the announcement
Celebrating classic and modern Polynesian Pop

Tiki Central / Tiki Carving

Tropicana TIKIs

Pages: 1 2 52 replies


I Uploaded the rest of the Tropicana pictures that I scanned. This is All the Pix I have of that job. Enjoy.

this one was knocked down by a painter in a golf cart. the result was 2 feet of missing headdress.

This longhouse had 12 poles that were carved in the upright position, not how I was used to carving. Also they wanted these to more "authentic" looking from pictures they had of other carvings. I still blended my own style into each one.

That was a 13 ft redwood piece. They shipped a semi load of 4 10 to 13 ft logs from N.California.

When I first got there(Tropicana), the Landscape manager took me to the pile of logs he had been saving from the Tropicana Golf Course.They were All Giant Washingtonion Palms. I was really unhappy because I had had my fill of Palm carving, but I dove in.

One fo the Redwood logs turned into this Dougout Canoe

Well, this is enough for now, I'll load more later, Hopefully I won't have to edit this to get the pix to show.

[ Edited by: Benzart on 2005-03-26 07:03 ]


My Gawd! How cool is that! But how did the powers that be, come to the conclusion that changing the theme of the "Tropical" Tropicana Hotel to the "Victorian" Tropicana Hotel makes ANY sense at all? Tragic!

[ Edited by: DawnTiki on 2004-01-11 19:57 ]

Kono posted on Sun, Jan 11, 2004 8:03 PM

Ben, your carvings are simply phenomenal. What most impresses me about your work is how you take a traditional motif and inject life into it. Your carvings don't look like modern interpretations of tiki (and in no way cartoonish) but neither do they look "anthropological," they fall somewhere in between. Most commercial artists are extremely good at what they do but, if I may say so, your stuff goes one step beyond that. Art with a capital "A."

I'm glad you found this place because there are plenty of people here who can appreciate what you've created.

Kono posted on Sun, Jan 11, 2004 8:08 PM

Fixed the code for the first one.

Kono posted on Sun, Jan 11, 2004 8:09 PM

The last one:

Kono posted on Sun, Jan 11, 2004 8:24 PM

On 2004-01-11 18:46, Benzart wrote:

That piece is pure frizuckin' art! Should be in a gallery somewhere!

On 2004-01-11 18:46, Benzart wrote:
One fo the Redwood logs turned into this Dougout Canoe


Wish I'd have seen this one in real life:

Okay, Ben...you're completely crazy, man. A dying breed!

Them logs are to die for, but the carvings are even better. Did the hotel acquire the logs for you? Tell us your memories of that huge job. All us young bucks are striving for a gig like that one day, I know I am.


Oh yeah, "Them Logs" came from the Tropicana(Now MGM Grand)Golf course.They had been saving them for quite awhile. When I got there theyshowed me this pile of at least 50 dead palms, then they took me to the hotel and fed me, put me up in a room and showed me around their garden (5 acres of Tropical landscaped Island look)and asked "when do you want to get started?".
Do you want the short story, the Long story, or the Big Book?
Any way, This is how it started.....
I had a small space to carve at a local Plant nursery in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
I had at the time a Wooden platform about 10' by 10',under a large Ficus tree. This was truly a Magical place which captured the hearts (and wallets) of Many visitors. The Nursery was Kraft Gardens and they did a Local annual show attended by Nurseries all over the US. Their themewas Hawiian that year and they asked if I would like to show some carvings.
Of course I said yes and even got an Indian friend of mine to build a Cheekee hut.
I put in a few Tikki, a 13 ft Pilican and a8ft dolphin sculpture.
During the show , I saw this guy walking Quickly down the rows and he stopped at our booth and asked "Who did these carvings?".
Of course I spoke up and took the blame and he asked if I would like to come to Vegas and do some carving for the Tropicana if he could arrange it.
I didn't say yes or anything for about 1 second, then I said OK.
That was in Jan of '89 I believe.
He called in the following May iad I was out there with all my tools in Mid May.
They sent me home the end of june for a 2 week vacation while they built the Longhouse and brought me back to carve the poles.
I left on Oct 28, Very exausted.
I'll fill in the blanks later on today.
Stay tuned

SES posted on Mon, Jan 12, 2004 6:38 AM

The BIG Book!

check this thread:
I'm sure it is the first of many to show!

Yeah Ben, I want to read the Big Book too! Amazing work you've done there - hard to believe that canoe was hollowed out of one log. Keep them pics coming!


The Canoe, Solid log, yes, I cheated a little since I knew it was for display only If you look on the side about 4 inches from the bottom, there is anoticable long strip glued in. I Plunge cut from the top a rectangle around what is now the inside of the canoe. I stopped about 2 ' from the bottom, not going all the way thru.
Then from one side about 4 " form the bottom I plunged thru Almost all the way and cut out the bottom ok the rectangle. The piece lifted out and there was the canoe hollowed out. I cut a strip tto plug the hole in the side , sanded it , scr3ewed and glued it in.
I used the cutout piece for another carving so it was not wasted.
This may sound confusing, but what I did was cut out a 16" by 16" by 8' square log. I used scrap pieces for the pontoons and brackets.
The fun part was during the bow shaping, this Peacock type imabe started to come out and really blew me away.
More to follow


Meanwhile they had set me up a spot under a large Willow tree right at the exit from the Casino to the Gardens.It was really nice. The first 2 days, they had someone watching me all day long making sure I drank Lots of water ( Desert,Heat of 104 degrees)and also to make sure I was not goofing off and that I was really doing what I was paid to do.
After the 2nd day, I was on my own. It was really a Nice gig. I'd work a few Minutes and talk to customers. I would get engrossed in my work and all of a sudden hear Very loud clapping. I'd look up to see 100 or more people crouded around inspired by what I was carving....(you carvers out there know how you get caught up in your work and tune everything out? ).
Anyway after the first week of carving palms, Don promised he would try to find some real wood which made me happy.then he took me to his office and told me to find a truck load of wood and get prices and order it after confirmation.
I ended up with the 4 Redwood Logs.
The Hotel was really great and went out of their way to get me whatever I needed or wanted. In return I gave them an honest days work and a Lot of Nice Artwork.
I had explained in the beginning that I would produce a Lot of Quick Low detail Tikis,(This one took only 6 hours)

and would do some with more detail taking more time.(While this one took 2 days..)

That was fine with them as long as I kept Puttin'em out.It worked out to a nice balance since a lot of the Trees they had saved were Really not that good and did not deserve any time with.Some carvings came out "On their Own" leaving me shaking my head saying "How did I do that"
like this one
Las Vegas is Home to Many Polynesian Peoples, Many of which found their way to me and there became a Connection somehow to the Old ways and and the Old, ancient carvers in some of my work there, not all or most but Some was done by Them, Not me. I fully believe that I just held the tools for them some times.
It was truly a Magical experience and very humbling for me.
Well enough of my ramblings for now. LAter.

[ Edited by: Benzart on 2004-01-12 13:15 ]


Ben, the detail in your carvings is awsome!Now adding your work, to that of Lakes', BK and the others, you all have lit the perverbial fire under my ass.

Don't worry...be Tiki

[ Edited by: TikiBud on 2004-01-12 15:39 ]


These carvings are PHENOMENAL! An inspiration to us all. Stupid questions: When were these carvings done? What became of them?


They were done in 1989,90 and 91 for the Tropicana hotel, The "Island of Las Vegas"
They had about 60 tikis and 4 or 5 years later, auctioned them all off. I,ve heard Employees got most but a couple local Restaurants got some....All Hearsay

GECKO posted on Tue, Jan 13, 2004 1:06 AM

Aloha braddah Ben,

Your work i have no words for my friend. I look towards the day I get a job like that or any of the new generation of carvers. Those pics are the reasons why I do what I do!

Please continue.

If there is a 2nd BOT, you should be in it.

Live Aloha


As well as you my friend


Here are more of the Tropicana Tikis..

[ Edited by: Benzart 2010-05-23 17:32 ]


Aaron's Akua, the Tropicana Hotel, Sold all the tikis several years ago and changed their "Theme" from Tropical to Victorian/Plantation or similar. Don't go there looking for tikis as there are none anymore :( :(

[ Edited by: Benzart on 2004-08-19 15:58 ]


I went though this string front to back, just mesmerized with the story. What an experience for you. Polynesiac Jim mentioned that you had worked on the Tropicana tikis, but I had no idea of the sheer volume and scope of your work there. Sad ending though... I've never been to the grounds inside the Tropicana, but the front looks... Well, I'm not sure what the style is there now. They killed a beautiful tropical tiki theme, and it's a real shame. Your awesome tiki carving spree is still out there somewhere, though, probably spread out who knows where. The new owners may have no idea who carved them, but I'm sure they appreciate the inticate detail and superb craftsmanship nonetheless. Thanks for sharing... Much in awe of this work.

Have any of these guys ever resurfaced?


Ben this is the first time i saw this thread, great work on all the stuff, just one word describes it WOW!!

Ben, you are a constant inspiration, whether on big or small projects your work is masterful. Please keep showing us more if you have any

On 2004-01-12 13:12, Benzart wrote:
I had explained in the beginning that I would produce a Lot of Quick Low detail Tikis,(This one took only 6 hours)

Now, this I find amazing. How did you carve such a huge and nicely finished tiki in so little time?


"Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness."
-Pablo Picasso

[ Edited by: Aaron's Akua on 2004-08-20 13:52 ]

foamy posted on Fri, Aug 20, 2004 2:12 PM

Wow, Ben. I mean, WOW! Great stuff! I used to do their advertising from about '98 to '01. I always wondered about all the Luau invitations I had to do. And they've gone to a Southern Plantation look? From that? Criminal.


Thanks guys. See what you miss if you don't go thru the old threads??
Aaron that big guy was all chainsaw and grinders. Real big basic cuts. It is just big, nothing special as far as detail. The eyes were the most detail but that was grinder too.

That is really beautiful stuff, Benzart. Like listening to someone like Van Cliburn; you only hear the beauty, you don't hear the decades of hard work it took to get to that level.

OK, Benzart, I have a confession. I've decided TC really sucks. As in "sucks you in". I've been spending my lunch break here at TC just about every day, getting little bits of everyone's story. The people here are just as interesting, if not more, than the art.

So, that being said, is there a Part 2 of the "Big Book"? I gather that all of the Tropicana stuff happened between '89 and '91. Now we're in '04 and you're carving all of these intricate small pieces using jeweler's tools & such. I'm having trouble connecting the dots...

Wow, Ben... I just found this thread too. Amazed at the magnitude of this job. What a variety of tiki... where did you get the inspiration??? Surely you must have experienced "carver's block"??? Did they allow you to dream them all up on your own, or were there also suggestion as to what they wanted???

I agree with Aaron... this thread isn't over yet. We want you to fill in the blanks, or (in Aaron's words) connect the dots!!!


Thanks Guys, the bulk of those were done the first time I was at the Trop which lasted 6 months. I arrived in May and left the end of October. I was so drained when I came Home I couldn't do anything for a month. They gave me total control of what to carve. The first 2 or 3 days they stood around watching to make sure I was cool and then left me alone to do what I wanted. The inspirations came from within and from looking at catalogues and magazines I could find. For the Longhouse, the Archetech had drawn tikis on the poles, but when he saw my work he quickly gave te the lattitude to "do my thing". The Trop's only request was that some of the poles looked authentic And to finish it in 30 days. There were 12 poles. I got them all done in 3 weeks including carving the rafters and a small bridge hand rails. the last week I spent carving the "Welcome to The Island Of Las Vegas" sign on the front entry way beam of the Longhouse. Then it was back to the Palm trunks. Then they let me find a "Good Carving wood" source and I found the truckload of Redwood logs from Crescent City Ca that they bought and had trucked in.
When the truck came with 4 big logs on it ,EVERYONE was Really blown away. 4 logs 10 to 13 ft by 4 and 5 feet blew Me away. They questioned my ability to carve those, but that only lasted for a day. You see the results. Some of that work was (as I have said before) Magical in that I don't remember doing much of it, like I was posessed by somwone who took over and did the work. It was a blur. Of course it was probably because I had been carving 6 and 7 das a week straight for 5 months or so and I was totally worn out kept going only by the creative energy that was going on. It was an experience I am Fortunate to have experienced.
When I got home it was all down hill. Pain wise my neck was so bad I couldnt do anything and both my hands were impossible. Over the next year I wound down and finally had to sell my tools to keep from using them, I couldn't stay away from them and I couldn't use them so I sold everything and quit. after about 4 months of doing nothing I found the job at this large jewelry mfg plant carving wax masters for small gift ware and chess board sets. I was able to do that about a year but finally had to quit for the pain.
I got a real job doing tech support for some large computer companies. That is the wrong thing to do with bad hands and a bad neck. Finally had neck surgery in'99 whisc half way fixed my neck. Last year I had first my right then my left thumb repaired. the left surgery was done in Oct last year and I found TC and started carving Small scale in January of this year. I had the itch and was looking for Mold making and casting materials for some ideas I had. That is how I found TC and the rest is all here in the pages of TC's forums.
There you know the Whole story, the quick version. I'm glad to have become a TC Family member.
More pix from the Trop here:
Mor benzart stuff from Before the Tropicana here:

[ Edited by: Benzart on 2004-08-21 09:07 ]

That's quite a story, Benzart. I sucks that your injuries took you off of what you enjoy doing the most. And I'm glad that you found a way to do your magic without causing more damage or ruining your back. Your newer small stuff is all the more impressive cause there's no hiding errors. With the big stuff I imagine that a few fudges can easily be unnoticed just due to shear scale. But the close up photos of the small carvings really show some excellent carving and detail.

So are you done with surgery? Can you keep on doing what you're doing without more problems to the thumbs? I hope so, cause you seem really happy with what you do, & people are lining up for your pieces.

You mentioned working at a "jewelry mfg plant carving wax masters for small gift ware and chess board sets", and it sparked an idea. Have you ever made a tiki chess set? If anyone could do it, it would be you. I could imagine that this would be a real tiki collector's item.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to share your story - it's been really fascinating.


"Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness."
-Pablo Picasso

[ Edited by: Aaron's Akua on 2004-08-26 13:30 ]


Aaron you are right about the small stuff showing more imperfections, especially the Macro Photos. You see things there you miss totally with the naked eye..Also with small carvings the scale is so limited that just a small mistake puts the whole carving out of perportion and wasts it . Hopefully I am done with surgery unless they find a better way to repair my old bones.
Here is a link to a post where a guy offered a contest for a large chess set.I won't go into detail but read the whole thread. very interesting https://tikicentral.com/viewtopic.php?topic=8067&forum=1
Think about how much you would have to charge for even a Simple chess set and then answer your question from there??
My pleasure. I have a lot of experience that I don't mind sharing if it is helpful to someone. Thanks

I checked out the contest post. Super interesting, & it raised a lot of compelling opinions and viewpoints. If anyone decides to carve a tiki chess set, they better be doing it for themselves, or have a rich tiki collector patron to pay for it.




For some reason, I have a strong desire to create a Chess set. I think i will use mahogany when I do it. Of course I will finish my carving list first and of course I'll let my doc tell,me when I can get back to carving, BuT, I want a Tiki Chess Set!

Do it, do it, do it!! That would be amazingly cool, a true tiki relic. You'd better stop taking carving requests then, else you'll never get it done! :D

I can't wait to se the Maori King and Queen, and Bishop, and rook, and knight, etc.

If you do this, you know you will have to have resin casts made.


[ Edited by: Raffertiki on 2005-03-27 04:58 ]


Raffertiki, I guess you're right, it's the only way. It will be tough deciding which figures to choose for what piece but I'm sure TC will help.

Lono would make a great castle with the headpiece, maybe Ku for the bishops, Cook Islands for the pawns? Or the whole thing could be tiki moderne, or all Maori.... So many different possibilities. It will be interesting to see what you settle on. 32 pieces could take quite a while, though! You mentioned mahogany, but won't you need say, ebony and ash or maybe something along those color lines? Sounds like an ambitious project, but if anyone could pull it off, it would be you, Ben! :)


bump bump bump


How do I get to see the closed down pics?


They are in the Shutterfly albums I shared at the end of the Carving thread, OR Here they are now

Ben, I was talking tiki with The Pizz at the tattoo show and he told me a funny story. He had a buddy who hated to valet park. So on a trip to the tropicana he was parking out back and noticed a giant tiki by the dumpsters area. It was way to too tall for him to move on his own, So he ever so gentley bumped it with his truck till it wobbled and fell over in to bed. He drove it back to So Cal hanging out the back. The next week they got 2 more and to this day the carvings reside in his back yard around his pool.
How true this story is I dont know but it was interesting to here him tell it. He offered to email me pics sometime if he could remember to take them.


That is Strange, Definitely get Pix!!

Paipo posted on Wed, Sep 20, 2006 7:21 PM

It's awesome seeing all these pics of "Benzart, the early Years", but also pretty sad that these incredible carvings came at the cost of your health. Those giant redwood guys are just mindblowing. What a shame these tikis weren't all kept together, it must have been quite a sight.


Ben, I was just curious, how do you feel about the fact that all the tikis that you carved at the Tropicana are gone? Do you get attached to the pieces or is it easy to let go?

WOW! Ben, thanks for sharing the photo album! It was mentioned they are no longer there??? Anybody know where they went? Those redwoods could technically last for hundreds of years...

I was out in Crescent City, drove the Avenue of Giants in August, incredible & humbling.

The health issues you experienced is horrible, but glad to see you back in action creating for those who truly appreciate and value, YOU and your talents!

Now, wherez those redwoods hiding???


Pages: 1 2 52 replies