Master carver, now jeweler, wonders what next

by Michele LeTourneau- December 1, 2017

Gregory Morgan’s work is sought out, as is his presence – yet when he graduates from the jewelry and metalwork program at Nunavut Arctic College in May, he and his wife wonder where they will live.

Master carver Gregory Morgan of Hall Beach, left, is now a jewelry and metalwork student at Nunavut Arctic College, seen here in the classroom with Mathew Nuqingaq of Aayuraa Studio.
photo courtesy Gail Hodder

He is considering joining Mathew Nuqingaq at his Aayuraa Studio in Iqaluit, but there is the matter of housing. Morgan and his wife and children – who moved to Iqaluit so he could pursue the development of his art – will have to move out of student housing.

They’re worried about having a place to live, he said.

Jewelry instructor Gail Hodder recalls first encountering her student Morgan last year.

“Why they’re taking the jewelry program is one of the usual questions,” said Hodder, about initial introductions among classmates and instructors.

Morgan, who hails from Hall Beach, said he was already a carver with 25 years experience.

“But I’d like to add a bit of silver or other metal to my carvings,” he told everyone.

Hodder wondered how that would play out.

“But after the first month you could see the interest and the fire in his eyes when he was watching demonstrations. Just gobbling it up,” said Hodder, adding, “I’d remember his first comment – that he just wanted to ‘add a little metal.'”

She said within four months or so “Greg was like a monster. He could not get enough of learning about metalwork or silver.”

Morgan was interested in every technique, every process.

“He’s always the closest to the demonstration area. He comes in on his own time and does all kinds of work. You show him something once and before the other students have finished one first stone-setting he’s got four done,” said Hodder.

She likens Morgan to an amazing guitar player.

“You can teach someone to play chords, but not everyone can be an amazing guitar player. You see the odd person every now and then who really has it in their soul.”

Morgan says he began drawing at the age of 16, and carving at 19.

“I had a girlfriend, my wife now – my father-in-law told me if I can draw, I can carve,” he said, adding once he completed his first carvings, with detail and finish, he could hardly believe it.

And because Hall Beach is small and had no jobs for him, Morgan, now a father of five daughters, continued with carving.

“Every day I carve,” he said, but adds he is prohibited from carving while living at Nunavut Arctic College housing premises.

In 2001, he spent time with Paul Maliki and Inuk Charlie at a NACA festival in Cambridge Bay.

“I asked them, ‘How did you get so good at carving.’ They told me if you keep using files and sandpaper, you’ll get very good. I’ve been doing that since then. I try not to see any scratches.”

In the years since he’s become known for his miniature carvings, for example, a carving made from a walrus tooth. Those range in size from as small as a thumbnail to a small handful. This is both his expertise – proved doubly by his skill at jewelry – and a natural business decision, as tiny carvings are less expensive to ship to the southern outlets that sell his work.

Morgan sells his miniature carvings, and now his jewelry, as fast as he can produce, but his latest paid large project is a collaboration with Looty Pijamini. The two are working on a complex eight-foot piece for the new Iqaluit International Airport – a piece with many small, separate, and increasingly larger fish, topped by the largest fish of all.

He is also sought after to demonstrate his skills on cruise ships, such as One Ocean Expedition. He turned down work on the Crystal Serenity to do the airport project.

But for this master carver and jeweler, the future remains uncertain.

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