Joseph Shuqslak was born September 4, 1958 and resides in Gjoa Haven, an Inuit hamlet and the only settlement on King William Island in Nunavut. Joseph comes from a family of carvers. He is the son of Joata Shuqslak, a late Gjoa carver, and Lana Qiyuk Shuqslak, a carver and crafts artist. Joseph’s Grandfather and uncles where also carvers as is his brother Moses Pameogarrak.
“I do mostly soapstone. Some whalebone, not too much. That’s about it, except when I go down south to try other types of stone, like marble. About two years ago I was awarded a scholarship by the Inuit Art Foundation to go to Vermont where I did some work with pneumatic tools. I’ve never used them before; it was good.”
“I’ve been an artist for more than 20 years. When I was 15 or 16 years old I had a job but noticed that people were making money from carving. I tried it and found that just about anything I carved I could sell. So I just kept on doing it. Not seriously at first. It was only about eight years ago that I started really carving.”
“My grandfather and my uncle carved. My grandfather’s brothers used to carve. I watched and learned. Also, when I was very young, maybe six or seven years old, I found a piece of soapstone out on the land in a tent. I filed it down to a fine finish and when I showed it to my grandfather he told me I was a very good carver. He paid me for all the hard work I did. I thought it was pretty good, so I just kept on going.”
“Our main problem now is getting soapstone. We used to be able to just go to the quarry and pick stone up off the ground. The stone was all on top. For many years now, the loose stone has been gone and we dig out of the ground and you can’t really do that until summer time. We can’t reach it by boat or by anything else in summer. The only time we can reach it at all is in the winter time, by skidoo and sleds. Our main problem is getting an airplane to fly up there and dig it out for the winter. We can’t even get it back to the community when we dig out in the summer because it’s too heavy. We need some money to get a quarry so we can dig stone out in the summer with a few guys. We’d leave them out there for a while to dig it out like they did two years ago. That soapstone lasted for about two seasons but this spring it’s all gone.”