Thomas Pushruk was born in 1925 on King Island. In his own words, Thomas describes how he learnt the art of carving. “When I was little my dad used to sit me down and hold both of my arms and tell me this is how to do it. With a piece of ivory in my hands he tells me this is a way to carve it. Later years, around 1934, we have Peter Mayac as the carving teacher. Every weekend we would practice how to carve. We carved seals, walrus, polar bear and paperweights.”
King Island artists traditionally carved the likeness of animals, birds and sea mammals found in the environment surrounding the island and the Seward Peninsula.
King Island or Ukivok as it was known to the inhabitants is located 40 miles west of Cape Douglas in the Bering Sea, south of Wales, Alaska. The island is primarily precipitous rock, 700 feet high and about a mile long. The island was historically occupied by Eskimos who called themselves “Aseuluk”. In 1778 Captain Cook named the island for Lt. James King, a member of his party. The village was then occupied by approximately 200 Eskimos who achieved fame as hunters and ivory carvers, and who lived in walrus skin dwellings lashed to the face of a cliff. By the 1950s, most of the King Islanders were spending more and more time on the mainland and by 1970 no villagers continued to live on the island, though to this day, they still visit the Island for subsistence hunting and gathering activities.