I used to carve beside my dad in the 1960s when I was about seven or eight years old, with files and saws on caribou antler. In the late 1980s I started turning little pieces of soapstone into little birds. With all the oil companies in Tuktoyaktuk then, I sold lots of carvings. When I was 29, I moved to Yellowknife to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time artist.
I make most of my carvings into animals I see when I am out hunting or the cultural things I see, like drum dances or people and how they dress traditionally. My inspiration comes from the pictures I see in my mind as how the drum dancers or animals look and move – I try to follow the shape of stone and carve that image.
White soapstone is fun to work with and I would say the green stone is nice, too. It’s soft and you can do a lot of things with it. While white stone finish is good it breaks and chips. Black stone is good, too, but harder to get. I just use whatever I get my hands on. All carvers have different styles and mine is doing as much detail work as possible. I am trying more realistic human shapes and capturing human expressions, which is hard work.
Carving is like a get away for me. When I carve, I forget everything but the piece and let my mind go and my hands take over. The next generation of carvers is coming along well but it is a mistake to try and rush things. When I first started I wanted to make money, too, but if you learn to take your time and do the best job you can – the money will come later.