Toi was born in Hastings but was raised in Portland, Auckland, and Masterton. Her secondary education was at Queen Victoria School for Māori Girls, Parnell, Auckland. She trained as a primary school teacher at Auckland Teachers’ Training College where she met the late Berry Maihi. They married in 1957 and had five children during their teaching careers in Northland, Moawhango (Taihape) and Auckland. As an artist Toi tutored in polytechs throughout New Zealand, and at Auckland University for a year. She exhibited in Australia, Hawaii, Utah and Germany in addition to many national and regional exhibitions throughout New Zealand. For ten years Toi served as a foundation member of the Aotearoa Moananui-a-Kiwa Weavers Committee (now known as Te Ropu Whatu, Raranga o Aoteaora). She was a member of the Māori and South Pacific Arts Council (MASPAC), of the Crafts Panel of the QEII Arts Council of New Zealand, and of the National Executive of Nga Puna Waihanga. She was a guest speaker on diverse topics including "Are One With the Land" at the 1980 Conference of the Landscapers’ Guild (since renamed "Landscapers’ Industries of N.Z."). She spoke at the Embroiderers’ Guild Conference, and a public evening at the former Museum of New Zealand where she spoke on "The Art of the Women in the Whare". During the 1990 "Taonga Māori Conference", Toi was invited to speak again on the arts of the women. This took place at the Waipapa Marae at Auckland University; the audience included invited overseas Museum Directors and Curators responsible for important Māori taonga in their collections. She was guest speaker at an international conference held at the University of Australia in Canberra, in 2003. The topic was "The Translocation of Indigenous Arts and Crafts". In November of the same year, Toi tutored a workshop of "Mozzies" (Māori Aussies). She added the feathers to a newly carved waka to be launched during the Pacific Wave Festival; she consequently became a member of two panels that were also part of the festival. During the morning panel, Toi spoke as a writer, and in the afternoon as an artist.
Following the death of Berry in 1996, Toi became involved in tutoring an applied arts course at Kaikohe, and in helping Waitangi Tribunal groups to clarify their aspirations and presentations via visual means. She also began to act as the designer-weaver for the Kohewhata Marae, also near Kaikohe.
Toi wrote a large body of material including poetry, short stories, papers, reviews, non-fiction articles, catalogue essays and a great degree of unpublished work. She also produced work tracing the development of fabric making techniques of the Māori. She was involved in an applied arts course in a Māori community and was engaged in presenting the aspirations of tribunal claimant groups in visual form. She lived in Kaikohe. From the age of twelve, she was working on a book concerning taniko, whatu, cloaks, and other garments. She stated that she “wanted to show that there was something to show about the fibre arts that was incredibly important - to do with the connection between this world and the other world.”
In 1990, along with Carole Shepheard, Toi was co-designer of the Commonwealth Quilt. She travelled to Canada with Carole Shepheard and Luseane Koloi (Tongan designer) to formally hand the quilt to the city of Victoria, the host of the following Commonwealth Games. Also in 1990 she was designer of the architectural components for ‘The Discovery Place”, Civic Square in Wellington. In 1991 she was co-ordinator and exhibiting artist of the first Contemporary Māori Fibre Art exhibition in Sydney. In 1992 she was invited to create a kelp installation for the Hall of Indigenous Textiles of the World in the United Nations Building in New York. In 1993 she accepted fifteen exhibition invitations to mark Women’s Suffrage Year – pieces included an embossed print for the N.Z. Women Printmakers Show, and elsewhere fine muka and shell jewellery, harakeke paper waka and manu (kites), kelp containers and installations, and acrylic paintings on canvas. In 1994 she was one of five artists commissioned by the Wellington International Festival Directorate to design and execute large installations as festival features, and also exhibited at the The Artistic Process exhibition at the Govett-Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth and at H2O Water at The Dowse in Lower Hutt. In 1995 she was co-ordinator/contributor of the Māori components and artists of a major artwork for the refurbishment of the Parliament Buildings, and also exhibited a large kelp installation for Into the World of Light at the Uxbridge Gallery in Howick. In 1998 she exhibited “Haze” – a collaborative installation with Maureen Lander and Kaylynn Two Trees of Arizona at the Auckland City Art Gallery. From 1999/2000 she accepted the position of designer/weaver for the Kohewhata Marae in Kaikohe. She contributed two multi-fibre installations to Reflective Terrain at the Whangarei Art Museum, and worked with Kingsley Baird on the Anzac Memorial sculpture erected at Canberra. In 2001 she attended the Anzac Memorial dedication ceremony at Canberra and made the kuta kete presented to John Howard and Helen Clark. Also in that year she illustrated a fourth anthology by Trixie Te Arama Menzies. In 2002 she was a co-designer with Laurence Berry of an 18m tall sculpture to be erected at the Town Basin in Whangarei, and also designed a sculpture for Moerewa. In 2003 she was commissioned to provide a mural for the Catholic Bi-cultural Centre in Ponsonby, Auckland. She made 15 necklaces as part of a workshop at the Art Centre at the University of Australia in Canberra in 2003.
She illustrated numerous books and her art works have been reproduced in various publications including Mataora – the Living Face; Fabrications – Works by 40 N. Z. Fibre Artists; 100 Craft Artists of New Zealand; and New Growth From Old.
- Phone conversation and correspondence with Toi Maihi, 28 Aug. 1998, 2 Nov. 2004 and 7 Sept. 2007.
- Te Ha questionnaire, 1992.
- Maihi, Toi Te Rito. Pakake! Pakake! Whalesong. Auckland, N.Z.: IWA, 1992. 61.