Joseph Turkaly was born in 1924 in Croatia, the eldest of three sons. At the age of eight he witnessed a bust of a national hero being installed in the town square where he grew up. This seemingly innocent event stoked the interest of the young boy, which would later turn out to be a lifelong passion. This school aged child modeled a small horse out of clay and presented it to his teacher who immediately recognized his talent. With her encouragement and the support of his family, he attended a high school for the fine arts in Zagreb.
After World War II, Joseph Turkaly continued his education at the Fine Arts Academy in Zagreb, Croatia. In 1952, he traveled to Italy as a student and decided that he would continue his studies in the birth place of Renaissance art. In Rome he was accepted to the Fine arts Academy, where he received his Masters degree in 1954. That year he won first prize for sculpture at National Student's Exhibition in Milan, Italy. After seeing his works, world renowned sculptor, Ivan Mestrovic, offered Joseph Turkaly a position as his assistant at the University of Notre Dame in 1957. In 1960 he married Julia Szente, with whom he had six sons. After Ivan Mestrovic's death in 1962, Joseph took over his teaching position at the University, where he taught sculpting for the next two years.
In 1965, he moved to Cleveland with his family in search of artistic opportunities. There he accepted a teaching assignment at Gilmour Academy. At the time the high school had no art department and Joseph Turkaly laid the foundation of a new curricular option. The department steadily grew under his guidance and received many accolades from state accreditation committees.
Throughout Joseph's career as a teacher, he continued to be a prolific sculptor, commissioned to create many public and private works. Among them are; Moses, an eighteen foot bronze on the campus of Notre Dame, George Washington, a nine foot bronze outside the County Courthouse in Buffalo, New York, Our Lady of Peace, and Our Lady of Bistrica, two seven foot marble pieces at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. He has works in public and private collections throughout the United States, Canada, Italy, Croatia, and Argentina. His recent work, The Immigrant Mother, has been commissioned in limestone in Toronto, Canada, and bronze pieces have been installed in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Zagreb, Croatia, as well a one in front of Joseph's home in Cleveland Heights.
Joseph Turkaly's pieces received many acclaims and awards. In addition to the award in Milan, he has also won the award for Best Garden Sculpture at a joint exhibition of the National Arts Club and The National Sculpture Society in 1961, and won the prestigious John Gregory award 1965, an award based on an artist's entire portfolio of work. He has been a member of the National Sculpture Society since 1965 and has been elevated to Fellow in 1994. He has exhibited there, in New York, numerous times over the years. In 1999, he received the "Presidential Award for the Advancement of Croatian Culture", an award bestowed on him by the government of Croatia.
Joseph passed away at his home in Cleveland Heights on July 3, 2007 and is buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland, OH.