Bronze Sculpture, Along Canyon Walls, by Joe Halko
526. Joe Halko , (American, 1940-2009) Along Canyon Walls, 1983 bronze, edition 1/12 signed Halko at base, Height of bronze 28 inches.
JOE HALKO: 1940 to 2009 Choteau sculptor Halko dies at 68
By ERIC NEWHOUSE Great Falls Tribune Projects Editor March 12, 2009
Joe Halko, who was born on a ranch near Stockett and grew to be a successful and much beloved wildlife sculptor, died early Wednesday morning at his home in Choteau.
Halko, 68, had suffered a series of severe strokes starting in late December.
"Joe was the kindest, gentlest man I've ever known in the art world," said Norma Ashby, one of the founders of the C.M. Russell Art Auction, where Halko and his work were popular year after year. "His wife, Margaret, was always beside him, which speaks to the kind of man he was.
"I never heard Joe speak a bad word about anyone, and he was always very humble about the art he created," Ashby said.
"He was just a nice man," added friend and artist Doris Anderson on Wednesday. "He had a good heart. Everyone will miss him."
Throughout his four decades as a sculptor, Halko created a legacy of artwork that will last a long time. . .
Halko was born in 1940 on a ranch near Stockett and grew up sketching and playing with clay. He graduated from Centerville High School, then studied art at the University of Great Falls, where he worked with Sister Mary Trinitas Morin, a campus art professor for 33 years . . .
Then he moved on to the Fisk Studios in New York and the Scottsdale (Ariz.) School of Art.
But he always returned to Montana for his inspiration. For 17 years, he worked as a taxidermist with sculptor Tuffy Berg, the namesake for the Tuffy Berg Award that now recognizes the most promising new artist in the Russell Auction. Berg died in 1991.
"Sometimes I feel a little guilty about it ‰ÛÓ we live here every day, and we take it for granted," Halko told Southwest Art magazine in 1988. "Montanans should stop and look around them. Everything changes."
Four years ago, Halko shared the secret of how he researched one of his sculptures, a stylized but natural family portrait titled "Mama Duck & 4 Ducklings."
"I went down to Gibson Park because the ducks are real up close and personal," he said. "And because I live in Choteau, I went to Freezout (Lake Wildlife Management Area) a lot."
Halko has been part of the Russell Art Auction nearly every year since the fifth auction in 1973. In 1974, a sculpture of his, "Jumping Whitetail," brought a bid of $375. Last year, his bronze "Against the Wind" sold for $5,250. This year's offering is a sculpture of two chickens and three chicks titled "Busy Banties."
Halko was recognized with the peoples' choice award for best sculpture in 1979 and 1983, and was popular in the Quick Draw event that precedes the main auction. His sculptures brought the top prices for three years, 1977-79.
Much of Halko's art is familiar to area residents because it's squarely in the public domain.
Most recently, Halko created nine different station of the cross sculptures that represent the journey Jesus made on the road to his crucifixion. Last year, the bronzes were installed in the sanctuary of Holy Spirit Catholic Church at 201 44th St. S. in Great Falls.
"Some of the pieces I did over and over again," he said last year. "That's the trouble with art it's never done."
Another of Halko's sculptures, "Heritage Honkers" stands outside the Fish, Wildlife & Parks headquarters on Giant Springs Road.
Joe Halko's life and character were remarkable and those who try to say artists have a wicked side as a natural result of passion should take a long look at Halko's work. I talked to him a little over the years and would have liked to have spent much more time with he and his wife. Sometimes Choteau is as far from Valier as New York City, though I can see Ear Mountain from here.
It's not that Halko wasn't passionate, it's just that his gift was the kind of close attention and observant intimacy that is constant and protective. In the earliest days he tried to produce a few of the cowboys and Indians that the market liked because they were easy to sell as part of the Charlie Russell brand. But then the times changed to focus on the environment. His east front of the Rockies location plus his taxidermy work plus his natural love and ease with animals combined to produce the Halko brand.
Once when we talked he told about his delight in the way ducks butts curl and waggle along, the way domestic geese have a knurly knobby beak, the way deer's ears stick out like parabolic satellite dishes when their attention is attracted, how animals naturally group themselves in interesting patterns. You can see those qualities in his sculptures, which are now distributed across the country, many of them life-sized and outdoors where they can be polished by the loving hands of children. Bob Scriver loved and admired Halko's work and Charlie would have, too.
In Montana many of us like our art to be realistic. And yet a little gaggle of geese by Halko is absolutely recognizable as his work. Something about affectionate amusement comes into the castings through the sculptor's hands and heart. So many people see art in terms of investment and possible profit if the artist becomes famous.Halko was not stupid about making a living, but he always kept his priorities straight and ironically, that's what makes his sculpture worth investment -- not just money but attention and understanding.
If you are reading this in real time on March 12, 2009, you should know you can post words of condolence on www.mcm.com. The funeral mass is scheduled at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Great Falls at 10 AM on Monday. He was a devout Catholic and among his nine Stations of the Cross in the sanctuary of that church will witness the Celebration.
On every Friday the website makes available biographies of American artists. Other days of the week only the first paragraph is posted as a teaser. Here's Halko's: Joe Halko grew up a student of nature of a ranch south of Great Falls, Montana. He learned the habits of the fox and the skunk, the crafty ways of the crows who nested in the same tree year after year, and whether the storm clouds held precious rain or dreaded hail. He built toy trucks and tractors out of leftovers from his father's shop and sculpted with clay out of the creek bank using ranch animals as models. He learned the basics of taxidermy from an uncle and so began his serious study. . .I don't know who wrote this, but they knew what they were talking about! (Source: Editoral by Eric Newhouse, Great Falls Tribune, March 12, 2009)