A look at the indigenous art in Alaska

Charles Pullock

1. Where do you get your inspiration from today?

There’s nobody in my family in the younger generation that carves today. My uncles that carved have died off. When I was young they inspired me to be a carver. Continuing their tradition is what gives me inspiration. I don’t want carving as an art to die.

2. Where did you get your inspiration from when you started making your art?

I got my inspiration from my Dad and my uncles. I started carving when I was about 7 or 8 years old. They taught me in simple terms.

3. What made you have the desire to make art?

Over time it just became a natural ability. I am always striving to make it more natural and realistic looking, striving to make the next piece better.

4. Would you consider it to be a hobby, lifestyle or career?

Since I have a 9 to 5 job, carving only supplements my income. It’s part of my lifestyle because it gives me my cultural identity.

5. Who has been the biggest influence in the choice you made in your art?

My dad and my late uncles from King Island. They influenced me because I saw how it was a means of survival for them. I would sit next to them and carve once and awhile. I saw how important it was for them to carve. They would go every day and carve at King Island hall because that’s how they made their living.

6. Is there something you know now about art that you wish you could tell yourself when you first started carving?

With enough patience and consistency, you get better with time.

7. Do you make art to tell a story? Why do you create your artwork?

Not necessarily to tell a story. I make salmon, seals, whales, and polar bears. I create those kind of animals because my uncles created seals and polar bears. I added the others as I evolved my skills. I saw those in the wildlife and I wanted to create those also. I started making the schools of animals and the pods of whales because it was something different. I wanted to make something new that would have my own distinct style.

8. What culture did you grow up in?

I was born and raised in Nome. My Dad is from King Island. My Mom is from Shishmaref. My culture is more from the King Island side of my family.

9. Why did you choose ivory as your medium?
Walrus ivory is a byproduct of my heritage and why I chose it as my means to my art work. Village of King Island is in direct migration of the walrus at spring break in the months of late April, May, June and sometime early July. The walrus was the main source of food to the King Island people for countless generation. They built the homes and skinboats out of walrus hide and driftwood. (edited)

10. How were you trained in ivory carving?

I started carving when I was 7 or 8. I learned how to carve using a file, a walrus tooth, sandpaper and polish. Leather and polishing compound. First I learned only to make the ivory tooth smooth and round and to polish the surface. Those were sold as keyrings in the gift shops and my Dad would give me the money. As I got older, 11 or 12, I learned to make seals from walrus ivory. My uncles would take my carvings and carve a little more on them to make them better. They would explain to me what they were doing in simple terms. That’s how I learned to become better. When I was in high school, about 14 or 15 years old, I learned to carve whales in art and culture class from local ivory carver from Gambel.

11. General history and background.

I was born and raised in Nome. I grew up in a subsistence lifestyle. I have hunted and carved all my life. Through my ivory carvings, I try to keep my cultural identity. When I went to college in Sitka, I started carving more in my dorm room to make spending money. That’s what inspired me to continue carving in my adult life. Even though my carvings were crude, gift shops would still buy them. Even though I have had seasonal jobs throughout my life, I have used carving on my off seasons to make a living.


Charles Pullock – Whale Shaman with Spear