Sam started carving when he was 4 years old. "I was cutting ivory for my uncles with a hack saw and a vice." Sam recounted how his uncles only spoke in their native tongue, not in English. "I still feel that I have a long way to come to be as skilled as them," he said in a recent interview with The Steinbrueck Gallery.
At the age of 20, Sam was an aircraft mechanic and moved to Anchorage, Alaska. He remembers his teachers and unlces telling him that he would become someone. Knowing that he gravitated towards art, he found a place called the Cook Inlet Native Association. "It was a gathering places for native people to do art. The elder people would do their own thing and younger people like me would come and watch them. Through that, you learn," he said in interview with the gallery.
As a "half Black, half Eskimo" youth, Sam found that it was difficult to establish himself as an artist. But Ken "Ralph" Paneok and Paul Tiulana, well-known carvers, took Sam under their wings and taught him many of the skills he's learned.
Sam speaks about how valuable island art is because of its unavailability. "And it's uninfluenced," he said. People who live on islands only have what is in front of them to pull inspiration from.
He's known the owner of the Steinbrueck Gallery since 1982 and speaks highly about how she's helped Sam to become a better carver and insists on making that known. He primarily works with fossilized bone and stone and his works can be seen all over the world. One can touch his pieces, and “feel” the bone structure of the bear, the feathers of the bird, and the smoothness of the whale. Sam’s sculptures can be found in museums, galleries, and personal collections spanning the globe.
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