37 Walton Street, Port Hope, Ontario, Canada L1A 1N2
The arts division of the West Baffin Co-operative is now called the Kinngait Studios. The prints, drawings and sculpture created here express the community's history, its 'place', its stories and its relevance. Their allure has attracted a dedicated and long term following, and continues to capture the imagination of new collectors. The commercial success of the studios has meant jobs and income for many members of the community and its artists have become cultural ambassadors in the broader, contemporary art world. All of this has been guided for more than fifty years and four generations by a clear mission: to be among the best visual art studios in Canada by providing the community with the space to create and collectors with an exceptional and inspiring product.
Untitled (People lining up to sell artwork), Shuvinai Ashoona, 2012
Shuvinai Ashoona at work in the drawing studio
My part in the story began on the first of May, 1980, in the very early hours of the morning, when I boarded an Austin Airways flight in Timmins, Ontario, bound for Cape Dorset. I sat in the back of the Hawker-Sidley 748, a twin turbo prop airplane that has replaced the more romantic but less efficient DC-3 as "the workhorse of the north." We made several stops to take on fuel and cargo destined for the tiny communities that dot the east coast of Hudson Bay. When we left Salluit for the final leg of the trip across Hudson Strait to south Baffin, I sat in the jump seat between the pilot and co-pilot and watched as the fog and cloud cover lifted and dissipated into the deep blue of the late afternoon sky. The reflection of the sun on the expanse of ice below was almost blinding, and as we dropped altitude I was told to look for polar bears that might be hunting seals along the coast, hungry after the long winter. I saw no bears on that trip and no seals, but it hardly mattered; it was the ride of my life, and it set the tone for the summer of my life. I didn't know then that it had also set my direction for next thirty-two years.
Shuvinai Ashoona is one of Cape Dorset's best known contemporary artists. When she was working on a series of portraits I asked her if she'd like to do one of me. This is her take, which she titled 'Arnapik.' When I first arrived in the community, many years before, people called me 'Arnapik', which means, 'the nice woman' - probably because I couldn't speak the language so I nodded and smiled a lot!
Kenojuak Ashevak & Leslie Boyd
I loved to visit Kenojuak at her home in Cape Dorset. It was a busy place, with her children and grandchildren coming and going, her treasures and awards filling the shelves in her living room and her favourite print, The Enchanted Owl, proudly framed and displayed. On this occasion, she is modeling the silk scarf designed by Inunoo featuring this most famous image. She loved it!
Cape Dorset is called Kinngait ([pronounced "King-ite") by the people who live there, meaning "mountains." It is a small island lying off the southwest tip of Baffin. The coastline is rugged, beautiful and plentiful, and the Inuit of this region refer to themselves as 'Sikusilaarmiut.', which refers to the lack of ice along this coast or, more accurately, that the waters of the Hudson Strait stay open beyond the edge of the ice floe, even in winter. Like most present-day Inuit communities, Cape Dorset grew up in the 1950's around the Hudson's Bay Company Trading Post, which was established there in 1913. It is now a modern and growing community of 1400 people with all the amenities of any other small community in Nunavut and throughout Canada. But the land beyond the community, "country" food (such as caribou, seal and fish), the language of Inuktitut, and innumerable Inuit cultural traditions still play profound parts in daily life and thought.
The Kinngait Studios have released an annual catalogued collection of limited edition prints since 1959. It is the longest, continuously running printmaking studio in Canada. The early prints were based on the traditional Japanese woodblock practice of Ukiyo-e, where an artist's drawing is given to a master printer to create an edition. Replacing the woodblock with the same indigenous stone used for carving gave rise to the stonecut, unique to Canada's north and synonymous with Cape Dorset printmaking. Over the years, new print media have been introduced - from stencil to stonecut to engraving, lithography and etching - to offer artists as many options for creative expression as possible. These prints are not reproductions. Each impression is inked and pulled by hand, and each is signed by the artist and includes the signature 'chop' of the printmaker and the Kinngait Studios.
Until recently, drawings were used almost exclusively as the creative foundation for printmaking. In the last decade, the Kinngait Studios launched a revitalized drawing program introducing new media and larger paper, opening up a whole new horizon for Cape Dorset graphic artists. 'Titiqtugarvik', or "the place to draw", is a place for artists of all generations, working side by side in a communal, collaborative space. Exciting and challenging work has emerged, putting the community once again at the forefront of innovation in Inuit art.
Untitled (Tea Break), Kananginak Pootoogook, 2010
Inukshuk Point, Ohotaq Mikkigak, 2009
Cape Dorset artists rarely use the term 'sculpture' to describe their work. They prefer the term 'carving' because it better reflects the dexterity developed through centuries of making things by hand. The word in inuktitut is 'sanaubik', which means to form, or work by hand. When carving, there is a direct bond between the medium, the environment and the history of Inuit culture. Today, artists in Cape Dorset work primarily with a stone called serpentinite, a metamorphic rock well suited for carving the naturalistic forms and extravagant compositions associated with the Cape Dorset style. The colour of the stone ranges from a pale, putty green to bluish, green-grey to almost black. It is quarried at Korak Inlet and Markham Bay, about 200 miles down the coast from Cape Dorset, and as much as 40 tons a year is transported back to the community by boat or snowmobile. There is also a rich vein of marble running like a highway along the coast near Cape Dorset, and several artists have made monumental works in this ancient medium.
Dancing Walrus, Axangayu Shaa
“Aqjangajuk, who began carving in the late 1950’s, does not do a great deal of detailing; instead he works for a total effect, concentrating on special interaction, expressive qualities and overall from. While some of his carvings of human and animal subjects are compact, robust, solid and static, others are more open, outwardly thrusting, dynamic forms."
*Jean Blodgett, “The Canadian Encyclopedia” (Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1985), Page 68.
Drum Dancer, Pootoogook Jaw
One of the three sculptor sons of master carver Joe Jaw, [Kingwatsiak (King) Jaw, Mathew Saviadjuk] Pootoogook has been carving from an early age. He uses a wide range of subjects in his work, and his style varies depending on the nature of the stone that he is dealing with. At times, his sculptures have multiple figures interacting and are almost obsessively detailed; at other times, particularly when working with very hard stones, his work is simpler and more iconic. His quiet sense of humour often surfaces in his work. Excerpt from Cape Dorset Sculpture, 2005.
There is so much going on in the northern literary scene! Songs, stories and legends that were passed along for generations are now making their way into print and digital media for generations to come. Contemporary writers are telling their own stories in their own language, becoming part of an ancient tradition of authors, storytellers and singers. The gallery will feature northern books by northern authors, for both children and adults, as well as other publications on Inuit art history and contemporary artists who are setting new directions in Inuit art.
Pomegranate (Portland, Oregon) has been supporting Cape Dorset artists for more than 15 years. Their beautiful line of note cards, puzzles, agendas and other fine and fun products feature original prints and drawings licensed through the Co-operative. Pomegranate also published the fifty-year history of the Kinngait Studios (Cape Dorset Prints: A Retrospective) in 2007 and have just released the first monograph on the artist, Tim PItsiulak, in a series of monographs focusing on Cape Dorset graphic artists.
A revolving exhibition of photographs of the community and the studios at work collected over my years spent in Cape Dorset. Think of it as your direct flight to the far north!
On the left, the lithography studio and 'titiqtugarvik' - the place to draw. On the right, the Co-op store - the hub of the community. In the background across the bay, Mallikjuak Territorial Park, notable for its Thule and Dorset culture archeological sites.
The daily, after school stop at the Co-op store for snacks.
Fresh vegetables, fresh bread and just about everything else you can get in a southern grocery store. The big difference - the big difference in price! The cost of living in remote, northern communities is as much as three times higher than in southern Canada.
Kenojuak Ashevak's "Resplendent Owls" (2005) in progress and hanging to dry in the Stonecut studio. In the background, the print block for her "Tulugak Nunavummi (Raven of Nunavut, 1999)", which was carved from a piece of slate from an abandoned pool table (note the pocket on the left). In the Kinngait studios, creative repurposing is always on the table.
Ohotaq Mikkigak (1936 - 2014)
"Ohotaq Mikkigak was for many years the janitor at Peter Piseolak School in Cape Dorset. When he retired he left his broom in the closet and picked up a pencil. He now goes to draw at the Co-op every day with the same punctuality he followed in his previous profession."
John A. Westren, "Toward the Millennium", published in Cape Dorset Prints: A Retrospective (2007)
"The shaman, perceived as a ghostly apparition, is barely hanging on to himself in the throes of transformation. This time, Ohotaq does something strange with the eyes. He has them looking down and within, yet they are encircled by another set of eyes, either as emphasis or alluding to a kind of double vision. Maybe we are meant to witness here not the shaman's transformation but our own hallucination."