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 Joe Halko  (1940 - 2009)

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Lived/Active: Montana      Known for: wildlife sculpture, dioramist, landscape painting

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Ad Code: 3
Joe Halko
from Auction House Records.
Thunder on the Plains
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
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 of the anatomy of game birds and animals. Halko's first formal art education was Art Instruction, Inc. of Minneapolis, a correspondence course.

After graduating from high school, he worked as a taxidermist in Great Falls and studied art at the University of Great Falls before he was drafted into the US Army. With that commitment complete, he took the train to New York to study art at the Fisk Studios and to work as a commercial artist for a Long Island advertising agency. He spent his free time there at the Museum of Natural History sketching the taxidermy mounts and the backgrounds. The school, work and big city museums were new and rewarding experiences, but the busy city was not where he wanted to be.

He returned to Great Falls and earned his bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry - hoping for a career with the Forest Service or the Fish, Wildlife & Parks Department. Through all of this Halko had been studying painting and sculpting, and spending as much time as possible in the out of doors. As it turns out the taxidermy and the biology degree were solid preparations for Joe's career as a wildlife sculptor.

His first serious sculptures were done as aids for painting - to study shadows, dimensions, and foreshortening. As he did more of these sculptures he found that he really enjoyed the sculpting, and it came easily for him. He continued his day work as a sought-after taxidermist doing sculpting on the side until 1976, when he turned to sculpting as his full-time occupation.

He has been fortunate to have lived in Montana all of his life. He married Margaret also a Montana native in 1969, and they have two daughters who are now grown. There were many opportunities along the way to move to bigger cities and larger markets, to travel and participate in the so-called big time shows, but Halko wanted to live and to raise his family in the environment they all loved. They spent 17 years south of Cascade along the Missouri River where wildlife and bird life was abundant and much studied. In 1998 Joe and Margaret moved to Choteau, another beautiful spot in Montana. It is a picturesque Montana town along the east front of the Rocky Mountains with easy access to the rugged wilderness and numerous wildlife preserves.

1976 - present
Primarily wildlife sculptor, to a lesser degree wildlife and landscape painting and western- theme sculpture

1958-1976 Taxidermist Great Falls Sporting Goods, Great Falls MT
Did traditional head mounts and rugs as well as life-size mounts. In addition to customer taxidermy projects, designed and built a 200 foot diorama with Montana wildlife taxidermy mounts, background landscape painting and fabricated foregrounds in the Great Falls Sporting Goods store 820 Central Ave. Great Falls.

1970-1971 Anaconda Company, Great Falls MT Environmental Chemist
Monitored air and chemical quality at the smelter and surrounding area

1965 Advertising Agency, Long Island NY
Worked on window displays for various area retail businesses

Centerville High School, Montana 1958
Art Instruction, Inc. correspondence course from Minneapolis MN
Fisk Studios, New York 1965
Bachelor of Science with majors in Biology and Chemistry, University of Great Falls, Great Falls MT 1970
Scottsdale Artist's School, Arizona Painting workshops with David Leffel
Holter Museum of Art, Helena MT Painting workshop with Richard Schmid
Steve Seltzer Studio Painting workshop with Steve Seltzer
Collected and studied personal library of several hundred books on art history, artists, and animals.

Ducks Unlimited Artist of the Year Great Falls 1978
Montana State Fair Collection 1979
Canadian Classic Art Association Best US Sculpture 1980 & 1981
Northwest Rendezvous Group 'Award of Merit' 1979, 1981 & 1991
CM Russell Auction Best Sculpture Award 1979 & 1983
Blackfoot Valley Art Auction MT - Various Awards
St Peter's Gala, Helena, Artist Award 1995 & 1997

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Museum, Wausau WI permanent collection
CM Russell Museum, Great Falls One-man exhibit of sculpture and drawings 1982
CM Russell Museum, Great Falls MT Permanent collection
CM Russell Museum Great Falls MT Nature's People: Wildlife Sculpture Exhibition 1996
CM Russell Museum, Great Falls Focus on Four 1998
Shadows of the Past Art Show Choteau MT Featured artist 1999

Feature article Southwest Art 1988
Feature Article Art of the West 1980
Great Falls Tribune Feature stories 2/22/81, 5/12/85, 8/13/2002
Choteau Acantha feature story 11/18/98, 10/9/02
Century in the Foothills illustrator 1976

2004 Commission for Central Montana Veteran's Memorial, Lewistown MT Six foot figure of WW II Army Nurse to be installed August. To be installed in November 2004, a 6-foot figure of a Vietnam era Navy seaman.

2004 Commission for a client of DeMott Gallery, Vail 9 foot tall bronze sculpture of a grizzly bear sow and her 3 cubs. To be installed October 2004.

2003 Commission for Regis University, Denver CO Life-size sculpture of a Flathead Indian and his pony and Father Pierre John DeSmet

2002 Commission for Art in Public Places, Bend OR Life size sculptures of mule deer buck, doe and fawn

2002 Commission for Regis University, Denver CO 6' x 8' relief sculpture of St Regis and the Street People

2000 Commission for Mercer Island, WA Parks & Recreation Department - Life-size Peruvian Paso colt

1998 Commissioned by Tom Tracy CEO of Ford Remanufactured Parts to complete two sculptures of Ireland's hero Kevin Barry to present to the Prime Minister of Ireland Bertie Ahern, the President of Ireland Mary McAleese, and to the school and the family of Kevin Barry

1994 Commissioned to design and execute "Return of the Wild Geese", a bronze sculpture of flying geese, to present to the National Gallery of Ireland

1988 Montana FWP Region 4 Headquarters Percent for Arts Project - Twice life-size sculpture of 4 Canada geese

CM Russell Auction of Original Western Art participant in juried auction as well as exhibit room since 1970
Western Rendezvous of Art (NWR show), Helena MT since its inception in 1978 - Elected to membership in 1980
Loveland CO Sculpture Invitational Show until 2001
Society of Animal Artists annual juried show -various years
The majority of Joe's exhibits and sales are through the galleries listed elsewhere

Society of Animal Artists, New York
Northwest Rendezvous Group, Helena MT
Allied Artists of America, New York

This biography, taken from interviews with the artist's wife, Margaret, was submitted July 2004 by a researcher at the Ashworth Collection of Native American and Western Art.

This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following obituary is courtesy of Mary Scriver:
Thursday, March 12, 2009
JOE HALKO: 1940 to 2009
"Choteau sculptor Halko dies at 68"
By ERIC NEWHOUSE • Great Falls Tribune Projects Editor • March 12,

CHOTEAU —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

"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 — 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 timeschanged 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.

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