The Tuktoyaktuk carver has since worked with soapstone, limestone, marble, ivory and antler. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and hockey star Bobby Orr own some of his carvings, and his work is displayed at Vancouver International Airport.
Joe, a father of five, uses time out on the land to reflect on what he wants to carve next. “I’m a fulltime hunter, from ptarmigan to polar bear,” he says. “When I’m going hunting you have something like eight hours driving a skidoo and your mind is racing.”
Some of his carvings share stories. “When I was a kid and the sun came up in January, we would make a face at it. Either because we were happy the sun came back or a frown because it went away. We all did that without question. We still make faces at the sun and our kids do that, too.” That’s the story his winning snow carving at the 2014 Sunrise Festival depicted. “I wanted to pass on a happy tradition to kids from the North. It was really exciting for me.”
Two years ago, the village had a competition for the best snowman. Joe took the idea a step further. “I had the snowman holding a drum and I put a flag. When the east wind was blowing, the flag would hit the drum and it was like the snowman was drumming.”
He also creates carvings that make a statement about social and other issues that are meaningful to him. “I feel a lot better making sculptures that mean something,” he says. “Art lives and influences people. In 500 years people won’t remember who the mayor of Rome was but they will remember Michelangelo.”