When museums all over the world celebrated Museum Week, a Twitter campaign which asked us to consider our collections in terms of themes, we were inspired by the theme of ‘Family’, and we have contemplated our stores and found some fascinating stories in our Inuit art collection about the way the art of carving is passed on through families.
A number of families across the Canadian Arctic have become well known as carvers since the artform became established in the early 1950s, with skills handed on from one generation to the next. For example, Goota Ashoona is a third-generation artist. She is the daughter of Kiawak Ashoona and the granddaughter of Pitseolak Ashoona. She works with her husband, son and nephew in their family studio in Cape Dorset.
Pitseolak Ashoona, born on Nottingham Island, Hudson Strait in 1904, died at Cape Dorset on 28 May, 1983. She carved this Head of a Giant from green serpentinite.
Ningeosiak Ashoona (b. 1979), the youngest daughter in the family, learned to carve from her father, and by watching her mother Mayoreak. She started carving when she was 13 or 14. Very few women carve now, other than Ovilu Tunnillie and Mary Oshutsiaq. While she has tried drawing, it does not hold as much appeal for Ning as for her sister Siassie Keneally or her cousins, Annie Pootoogook and Shuvinai Ashoona.
Here is one of Ning Ashoona’s characteristic works, a loon in dark green steatite from 2009.
Shorty Killiktee (1949-1993) was another a well-known carver from Cape Dorset, renowned by collectors for his depiction of birds. His legacy is continued by his son Simeonie Killiktee (b. 1973) whom he taught to sculpt at the age of seven, and by the dynamic young carver Toono Sharky (b. 1970), his nephew.
Here is a carving called ‘Sea Spirit’ by Toonoo Sharky, also of Cape Dorset, an Inuit hamlet in Nunavut, Canada, famous for its artistic tradition.
Largely self-taught, Toonoo Sharky (b. 1970) began carving at the age of ten, influenced by his uncle Shorty Killiktee. Toonoo first exhibited his work at the age of seventeen, leaving school early to carve full time. He is now the leading young Inuit carver of his generation, and his works are beginning to attract high prices among collectors. His father, Josephee Sharky (1942-1979), and grandfather Sharky Nuna (1918-1979), were both talented carvers but were drowned in a hunting accident. His mother was the daughter of master carver Kuppapik Ragee; his younger brother, Napachie Sharky (b. 1971) has also emerged as a bright new carving talent.
Working primarily in serpentine stone and marble, Toonoo Sharky’s compositions ‘use an interesting juxtaposition of sturdiness and fragility’. He is fascinated with spirit beings and his themes often include vivid treatments of wildlife. While he decides what to carve depending on the shape of the stone, his ‘favourite subjects include birds with a fish or lemming and animal/human spirit transformations thus expressing the age old Inuit belief in the inherent spiritual unity of nature’.
Sharky certainly represents a new generation of artists. For his grandfather, carving was something he came to later in life after years of living on the land in the traditional Inuit way. Two generations later, Toonoo Sharky has grown up surrounded by artists, instilling an entirely new perspective into his art. Sharky’s work has been widely shown, included in exhibitions across Canada and the US as well as in France and Germany. He was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy in 2003.
Toonoo’s younger brother Napachie Sharky has also taken up the art of carving, though at a later age than Toonoo. Here is a piece of his called ‘My first ski-doo ride’.
Napachie’s interest in the world around him is evident in his range of subjects. He is perhaps best known for his carvings of birdlife, for which his open, delicate style is ideally suited. ‘Napachie is now well-known for making bird carvings, whose knife-edge wings are so thin they are sometimes translucent when held up to the sunlight’. This degree of craftsmanship takes a great deal of skill, proof of his emerging talent. In recent years he has begun carving objects that look to the future as well as the past. His miniature depictions of modern everyday life – the ski-doo ride, or a hunter with a rifle – with their small parts and fine detailing are impressive workings of the stone.
Another community in the Canadian Arctic famous for its Inuit art is Baker Lake, which is home to Louie Arnayuirnaaq, who is the son of one of Baker Lake’s most well-known artists, Toona Iquliq (b. 1935). He was adopted by Yvonne Kanayuq Arnakyuinak and Paul Arnakyuinak, who are also carvers in Baker Lake. His brother Johnny Iquliq (1966-1996) and sister Camille Iquliq (1963-2005) were also carvers.
Here is one of his sculptures held in the collection of the museum, entitled ‘Mother and child (child in amauti)’
Louie has become renowned for his basaltic carvings, with throat singers and family groups most common. His mother and child sculptures have become his signature. An amauti is the type of parka worn by Inuit women of the eastern Canadian Arctic. Up until about two years of age, the child nestles against the mother’s back in the amaut, the built-in baby pouch just below the hood. The pouch is large and comfortable for the baby, and the mother can bring the child from back to front for breast-feeding without exposure to the elements.
Baker Lake is the English name given to Qamanittuaq, which is translated as ‘where the river widens’ (population 1,728 in 2006). It is located on the lake’s northwest shore near the mouth of the Thelon River, some 320 km inland from the west coast of the Hudson Bay, and it is the Canadian province of Nunavut’s only inland community. Southern influence has been felt in the area for almost a century. In 1916 the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post at the mouth of the Kazan River, which flows into Baker Lake from the south. Twenty years later, the Hudson’s Bay Company set up shop and soon traders and Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries would follow. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police established a temporary base at the east end of the lake in 1915, moving to the present settlement of Qamanittuaq in 1930. When children from the region were brought in for school in the 1950s parents eventually moved as well in order to keep their families together.
Joy Martin and Heather Lane