Cape Dorset Sculpture

by Derek Norton, Negel Reading, Introduction by Terry Ryan
136 pages,
ISBN: 1553650883

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by Olga Stein

Cape Dorset is a tiny hamlet, located on the southwest tip of Baffin Island. It rests just south of the Arctic Circle. Growing out of a small community that coalesced around the trading post established by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1913, Cape Dorset is now "a modern community of nearly fourteen hundred inhabitants in the newly created Canadian territory of Nunavut." Even more interesting is the intriguing fact that this remote northern community has garnered an international reputation for artistic excellence in graphics and sculptures. In addition to its stable of mature Inuit artists, a veritable hatchery for talented carvers and printmakers is to be found in Cape Dorset. How did this happen?
The story is long and goes back to the 1950s' initiative of James Houston. An artist himself, he recognized the beauty and value of the carvings he saw, and understood that the art could be turned into a vital source of income for Inuit families. As a federal northern service officer for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, he organized a number of exhibitions which sparked interest in the sculptures on display. The work of eight of the artists who contributed to these ground-breaking exhibitions appears in this book. They are: Aqjangajuk Shaa, Kananginak Pootoogook, Kenojuak Ashevak, Kiawak Ashoona, Kov Takpaungai, Lukta Qiatsuk, Osuitok Ipeelee and Pauta Siala. Most of these artists were born before 1940, and yet what is consistently striking about their work-particularly for anyone expecting a degree of dull uniformity-is each artist's distinctive style and insistence on giving an original twist to traditional subjects. There is a great deal of the unexpected in the works of this 'older' generation. It is marvelous, and marvelously in synch with evolving sensibilities elsewhere in the world. It isn't surprising, then, that the work of three subsequent generations of Cape Dorset artists-many of them descendents of the founding members of this artists' collective (now the West Buffin Eskimo Co-operative)-have adhered to and built upon the high creative standards of their progenitors (the price of a carving wasn't, and still isn't, established by size but by its inherent merit-its originality and fineness).
The community is now connected to the rest of the world through television, telephone, and the internet, and this has allowed new influences to pervade the artwork of younger artists. They are: Nuna Parr, Pitseolak Niviaqsi, Mathew Saviadjuk, Oviloo Tunnillie, Ashevak Tunnillie and Kellypalik Qirmirpik (all born around 1950); Toonoo Sharky, Samonie Toonoo, Jutai Toonoo, Isacci Etidloie and Markoosie Papigatok (1960's generation); Jamasee Padluq Pitseolak, Ulaiggii Adla, Etidloi Adla and Johnnysa Mathewsie (artists born in the 1970s). The marvels of the arctic are in this book.

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