“Carving is my life and it’s how I make a living,” explains the 58-year-old artist. “Although I have dabbled in such things as painting over the years, my greatest pleasure and the one that gives me the most satisfaction is sculpting and carving.”
Antoine was born in the Northwest Territories but has been firmly rooted in Edmonton for the past 22 years. His large creations appear in many corporate offices and private collections throughout the city (and surrounding area). While most of Anthony’s work is sold privately, some of his masterpieces have also been exhibited and sold in galleries in both northern and western Canada.
Anthony is renowned for his carvings of muskox, bison and of course bears – his large polar bears, his stunning bears on inukshuks, his fishing grizzly bears, his black bears with glorious striations and of course his whimsical dancing, drumming and marching bears of all sizes. Each bear seems to have its own personality.
He is masterful at creating wildlife and many stones speak to him in the voice of the animal that they will become but he also enjoys creating abstracts. “Each abstract is definitely one of a kind – there is no duplication. The rock guides the carving,” he said.
“I like telling a story through the art that I am creating – sometimes that can be achieved with simplicity, other times it is the fine detail that brings out the meaning I am trying to portray.”
To look at Anthony, one would not think that he is a spiritual person but his spirit soars when he is describing the thought process behind his abstracts, describing transitions and transformations, such as lifecycles from youth to elders, tears for missing and murdered Indigenous people, and honouring lost children.
Antoine’s artistic prowess wasn’t inherited and his skills weren’t passed down to him from other artists in the family. Like both his father and mother, Anthony was a victim of the Indian Residential School System.
“I was part of the 60’s Scoop,” he explained. “I was taken away from my parents when I was just two years old and was a ward of the government until I was 16. When I was 18 and in Edmonton I learned that there was an Aboriginal liaison from the Northwest Territories in the city; the people at the Herb Jameson Centre suggested I contact him. I did and found out that he knew two of my uncles – my Uncle Rene was working with the NWT Government and my Uncle Jim was Chief at the time.”
A phone call and an airline ticket later and Anthony was back home.
“I arrived there in September of 1982 and met my dad; my mother had passed on when I was just 10 years old; I didn’t find out until I was 13. I met so many of my cousins and other relatives; I could hardly believe it, but it was good, real good.”
He stayed for nine years before moving on to Yellowknife, where he met his wife, and together they moved to Edmonton.
Anthony’s artistic side was discovered by chance – he ran into some trouble with the law and found himself incarcerated. There wasn’t a great deal of opportunity for self-improvement in jail, but the opportunity that did come his way is one he took advantage of.
“They had a carving program going on at the facility when I got there,” he explained, and he knew some people who were participating.
“I told them that I wanted to try it and they encouraged me to give it a try. I had just got my income tax check back so I bought my first piece of rock and did just that.”
The rest is history.
“My first sculptures took me a full two weeks to complete,” he explained, “and I was told not to expect them to sell.”
Their predictions would not prevail, noted Antoine. “Within a week of the sculptures being put up for sale, I sold them both. I was very happy to make the $1800 and said ‘wow this is what I’m going to do to keep myself out of jail.”
And, with the exception of some minor scrapes, it’s been that way ever since.
Anthony loves carving with soapstone and he loves sharing his culture through his art. He tries to keep his art affordable and accessible to everyone.
“Costs have gone up in recent days but I still manage to keep my prices within most budgets,” he assured.
His art is beautiful and affordable – so when you need a great piece of art for a corporate or personal gift or to add to your own collection, visit www.wakinagallery.com or call 780-237-1556 for a viewing.
By Deborah Shatz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Aug 15, 2023