Joann Sõstra was born to a large family on 27 April 1913 in Lisje village near Lake Peipus. His parents earned their living from fishing and growing onions. Since the family was relatively poor, Joann had to start to make his own living at an early age. Sõstra’s education was hardly sufficient, he had only attended four years of village school.
In 1932, Joann Sõstra began to work in the woods near Kanaküla, in Pärnumaa, where he ended up as a lodger in the Leppoja farm. The farm had been left to the care of the widow Olga, who had three children to bring up. Thus, Joann Sõstra found himself a new home and, besides his three foster children, had four children of his own.
The farm demanded a great deal of labour: landtilling, keeping of domestic animals, and work in the woods; there was not much free time. After a hard day’s work, Joann would weave baskets and make the necessary tools.
After the nationalisation of farmlands, Joann Sõstra got a job as a lumberman in Viljandi Metsakombinaat. In 1967, he went to work to Kilingi-Nõmme Näidismetsamajand, a forest management company.
From 1977 onwards, after a heart attack prevented him of doing hard physical labour, Joann Sõstra dedicated himself to the art of carving. Accompanied by the artist’s habit of not standing idly, it had become an important means of self-expression for him.
The naivist wooden sculptures make up the most fascinating part of his creation. His figures constitute human and animal shapes, as well as mythological creatures. Noteworthy examples include men and women sitting, standing and dancing, skaters, fishermen, circus artists, suitors, elderly people, soldiers; hawks, wood grouse, swans, dogs; devils, etc.
Sõstra, as an amateur artist, has never been mentioned in the newspapers; he has however been referred to, on several occasions, as an excellent worker.
Joann Sõstra died on 19 November 1992.