He once described himself as, “a very serious young man, rebel of the public school system and all around skeptic.” After graduating in Montana he became a formidable pipelayer/operator of heavy equipment and then a tradesman. While he enjoyed the raw simplicity of physical work he remained unsatisfied. He said the “school of hard knocks” brought him a pair of callused hands and some wisdom but was also “a means to sweat out the angry bits of life.” He read a lot never losing the interest for learning new things and eventually summoned his courage and veered for the vast beauty of Alaska, the last frontier. After hiking, fishing and festival going in a setting of boundless nature the kindling was lit and his love for travel flourished. He flew to Hawaii and one day his friend Dan brought him to Bellyacres to help build my house.
It was 1998 and I had been preparing for about ten years, gathering building materials and tools, saving money and expanding a circle of friends who could help me. My Canadian buddy Will flew in to be lead carpenter and started framing while I was at the 1998 Hawaiian Juggling Festival. When I returned Will admitted he hadn’t done any framing for 15 years and we had to pull down most of what he had done. It was a crazy time for me, apart from supervising the project, lining up materials, helping to lift beams and walls, and generally banging as many nails as I could, it was my busiest HICCUP year to date. Joe and Dan appeared like angels just when I needed them. They had no construction experience but were incredible workers and learned on the job. They were so dedicated for a couple of weeks they rode ten miles to work on their bikes down the side of the volcano, until Dan crashed one day. That’s when they moved into a Bellyacres treehouse and focused on house building. Choosing their own work hours allowed them a bit of time for visiting the beach, exploring the jungle and learning to juggle with me. We ended each day throwing objects at one another letting off a lot of the steam caused by the frustrations of building a big house without any experience.
In early May Will had a grand mal seizure and flew back to Canada leaving me and Joe and Dan with a half built house. I still had my usual weekly circus classes, ‘Juggling for Success’ classes, parades and shows plus lots and lots of “Naturally High” rehearsals and off island tours so could only pop in and out each day. Joe stepped up to be the lead carpenter and was able to hold it all together admirably. We put the roof on, finished the windows, built steps and after friends helped Joe with the dry walling and other details I moved in on June 28th.
Joe left for the summer but had caught the Hawaii social circus bug and returned before the winter for our big Juggling Festival. With his passion to always maintain a childlike sense of play and wonder he fitted right in with our circle of jugglers. He later started helping me teach classes saying, “To see adults and children on equal footing and enjoying the circus arts together made my heart sing. I witnessed little ones sharing their skills with each other, and was in awe at their confidence when they approached me to share their knowledge of how to ride a unicycle, juggle three balls, walk on stilts, and more. The environment was filled with props of all kinds and each one got to choose their own adventure. Basically circus was everything a human could ask for to better hone the faculties of the mind/body and have a great time.” Feeling aligned with the mission to work with young people later that year he flew off to attend college.
He was accepted at Evergreen in Washington State after telling them, “I’m enraptured by the outdoors world and am most happy in that environment thriving on motion and activity. I like the vicariousness I get from books and interesting people. I’ve always loved music and having a harmonica, at the ready, in my pocket suits me.” His goal was to participate in a present day renaissance through education, arts and community and years later that is what he’s accomplished.
Having explored his passion for play through our HICCUP Circus he then discovered Capoeira Angola which evolved out of the African diaspora in Brazil. Music guides the players in a martial dance of strategy and wit. “It’s another art form where adults and children play together on an equal footing bridging nationalities, races and genders.” He took trips to South America studying Spanish and traveling overland through Mexico and Central America as far as Peru. He rode burros through ancient lands where indigenous peoples still sow the earth by hand and chaos abounds and speculated on many archaic civilizations that existed there. Joe went all in with Capoeira from 2000.
After graduating he returned to Hawaii to live in the Bellyacres jungle community, play in the surf, swim with the dolphins, further his carpentry skills, practice circus arts and learn about the history of the Hawaiian people. He also started his own local Capoeira Angola program with twice weekly classes under our circus big top.
In 2005 Joe brought his Capoeira troupe to participate in our ‘Malama ka aina’ community show exposing lots more residents to this developing art form.
In exchange for living at Bellyacres Joe engaged in numerous projects. He led the building of Michiel’s jungalow, major upgrades to the White House and Jeanne and Joe’s jungalow. He did some splendid carpentry work for our community and was considering building his own jungalow on Bellyacres but chose instead to buy land in Seaview and start his own homestead with his partner Stephanie. For his sake, I’m so glad he did, it was definitely the smart thing to do.
He always maintained his connection with Bellyacres and returned to work endless hours, over a year, preparing dozens of huge ohia posts and hundreds of boards and beams for our S.P.A.C.E. project. He was a valuable part of the building crew and his valiant efforts enabled us to build the beautiful structure super fast since all the sanding and painting had been done in advance.
During the completion of S.P.A.C.E. Joe’s woodworking skills crafting natural ohia post and beam construction advanced considerably and he was hired to build some big budget structures down in Kapoho Bay. In the evenings he taught Capoeira at S.P.A.C.E., became a regular HICCUP teacher and performed in several hotel convention gigs with Annetta’s circus troupe which he really enjoyed. We were happy to support him with Capoeira fundraisers and he organised weekend workshops for Big Island enthusiasts and flew in two Brazilian Mestres.
Following the disastrous fire that destroyed Michiel’s jungalow Joe led the reconstruction project, then built Bellyacres a new solar shed. In 2009 I hired him again when I decided to create a small house in which I planned to eventually live when I retired. That dream never happened but it was named the Horvat house after my friend Ed who donated lots of the materials we used. Utilising Joe’s excellent carpentry skills the structure became an excellent example of a low maintenance, sustainably built and very aesthetic home which has been appreciated by many occupants over the years.
Joe took a break from circus for a while but is now back fully engaged with the HICCUP kids with his sense of lightness and play which remain his mission and passion. He also has his own dedicated Capoeira space where he teaches kids and adults. I’m delighted because he’s really good at it and the world needs more artistic renegades like Joe to nurture family and build community.