Alaska Artists: Johnny Aculiak

lonely caribou in Alakan Nature

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Johnny Aculiak was born in on one of the Hopewell Islands, just north of Inukjuak. Although has lived in other communities, Aculiak moved back to Inukjuak in 1993. Famous for his carvings, depicting the Inuit and their lifestyles, Johnny Aculiak passed away in 2008.  Aculiak felt it was important others learn about his people and their culture.

Although he is best known for his carvings, Johnny Aculiak also tried drawing and jewelry making. Johnny learned to carve on his own in 1968.  After his father died, he and his older brother worked to support the family. This was, perhaps, one of the reasons he took up carving. He recollected during an interview with Henry Kudluk in 1997 that he started carving because he envied the carving skills of his friends. Aculiak said he could not remember the exact date he devoted himself to carving, although he probably began as a way to support his family after his father died in 1968.

In the beginning, Aculiak said he envied the carving skills of his friends: “They could do what I couldn’t. That gave me a lot of anxiety, not being able to carve like them. I really wanted to learn. When I was young, I would work away on a carving until someone came along. Then I would quickly pretend I was not carving. I used to be ashamed, thinking that my carvings were not good enough for people to look at. All the time I was carving, I would keep an eye out to see if people were coming my way. Eventually, I lost my shyness about carving”

Johnny Aculiak also worked with materials such as stone, antler, ivory and whalebone. Occasionally, Aculiak added ivory or caribou antler to his soapstone carvings. He also quarried his own stone, a task he said was challenging. “It is not an easy job to quarry stone. Every year we have to find a boat to take us to the stone. The boat often has a leak and doesn’t have a proper pump to drain water, which means that we have to drain water from the boat by hand. And when we get to the quarry site, we have to take the rock out of the ground without proper quarrying tools”

Johnny Aculiak's favorite medium is soapstone and one of his favorite subjects to carve depicts an Inuk hunting game; As for his favorite subject matter, he said: "I like carving Inuit people. I used to get requests from teachers who wanted me to make something specific for them. I would always try even if I had never made it before. Mostly they wanted birds. I was already being told that I was a good carver, even when I had no idea of how to price a carving."

His work is highly polished with great attention to details such as facial expressions and hunting tools that he includes with hunting scenes. Aculiak preferred to work with hand tools rather than power tools, and he felt that there should be a distinction. “I think that carvings made with hand tools should be separated from the carvings made with power tools. I think that carvings made by power tools are overpriced”

Johnny Aculiak was married to crafts artist Lily Aculiak. In 1987, Aculiak and his wife travelled to Europe and Russia, accompanying Things Made by the Inuit, an exhibition organized by La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec. At times Aculiak’s wife, Lily, helped polish the stone after he cut the muscle in one of his fingers.

Johnny AculiakEdwin Tappan Adney| George Twok Aden AhgupukAlvin Eli Amason| Saradell Ard|   Belmore Browne| Vincent ColyerJules Bernard DahlagerLockwood De Forest| Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh| William Franklin Draper| | Henry Wood Elliott| John Fehringer| Claire Fejes| Louis Agassiz Fuertes| Magnus Colcord Heurlin| Norman Jackson| Rockwell Kent| Sydney Mortimer Laurence| Fred Machetanz| Marvin Mangus| Milo Minock| James Kivetoruk Moses| Rie MunozJoseph Henry Sharp| James Everett Stuart| John Webber| Kesler Woodward|


Alaska Artist Johnny Aculiak carving

Johhny Aculiak Inuit art carving

Alaska's Tribes:

Below is a full list of the different Alaska Native cultures. Within each culture are many different tribes.

Learn more about Alaskan tribes

Aleut Athabascan Eyak
Haida Inuit Tlingit
Tsimshian Yupik