IAQ logo

Gilbert Hay

Gilbert Hay is a sculptor and printmaker working in Nain, Nunatsiavut, NL. Hay is a prodigious maker besides carving, and has worked in goldsmithing, silk-screening, sewing, jewelry and lithography. Hay prefers carving anorthosite, which he gathers from the nearby quarry at Ten Mile Bay [1], but he will carve any suitable material, from antlers to whalebone to marble, and always starts his creations by examining his chosen material and letting its shape and characteristics dictate the subject matter [2].

Hay began drawing at age ten, and started to carve during his twenties while living in Edmonton and pursuing vocational training [3]. Hay travelled widely across North America as a young man, and his experiences of other cultures fostered a heightened affinity for his own. On his return to Nain in 1974, he strove to preserve Inuit culture and modes of living, and learned to sew from his mother and began making traditional kamiik (boots) and other garments to keep traditional modes of making alive [4]. In March 1991, he received a scholarship from the Banff Centre for the Arts to participate in a five-week session which had a profound impact on his practice. It was here that he created Natural Gas, one of his most famous works.

Hay’s works are marked by a tension between ‘accepted’ modes of Inuit art-making and the more abstract style Hay wants to explore [5] His hand-held sculptures may initially resemble traditional Inuit art, what Hay calls politically safe “memory art” [6], but they are rife with commentary on the political realities of the North; they are at the same time wryly humourous, and laser-focused on colonialism. Hay will often use environmental landscape markers like inuksuit to contrast Inuit and European symbolism, and comment on the early colonial attempts to remove them (and symbolically Inuit) from the landscape [7]. The upside-down Inuk holding an egg in Hay’s Natural Gas (1991), for example, speaks to the displacement of Inuit ownership over natural resources and the fragility of their traditional lifestyle within the context of the Nunatsiavut land claims agreement, which was under negotiation at the time of Natural Gas’s creation.

Hay’s influence stretches far over his community and the Nunatsiavut artscape. He is considered the first Inuk from Labrador to experiment with printmaking, and he has exhibited nationally and internationally, including four times at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery in St John’s. Notably, his massive, one-ton commissioned serpentine soap-stone sculpture, Nuikkusemajak, has decorated the lobby of the Confederation Building in St John’s since 1985. He has also dedicated much of his time to artistic pedagogy and development in his community by establishing a community craft centre in Nain with longtime collaborator William Ritche in 1976, and serving on the board of the Inuit Art Foundation for many years. 

Accomplishments

  • 1979 – Received Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council grant for continuation of art
  • 1985 – Completed his one-ton serpentine sculpture Nuikkusemajak (“Has visited”) for the Confederation Building annex in St Johns
  • 1990 – Became a member of the Inuit Art Foundation Board of Directors


Citations/Footnotes

1  Heather Igloliorte, SakKijâjuk. (Fredericton, Goose Lane Editions, 2017), 70-73.
2 “Two Artists at Banff: Ashevak and Hay,” Inuit Art Quarterly 6, no. 3 (Summer 1991): 20-22.
3    Heather Igloliorte, “Gilbert Hay: Carver, Illustrator,” accessed September 9th, 2019, from http://www.michnunatsiavut.org/gilbert-hay.html
4    “Two Artists at Banff: Ashevak and Hay,” Inuit Art Quarterly 6, no. 3 (Summer 1991): 20-22
5    “Speaking For Themselves,” Inuit Art Quarterly 5, no. 2 (Spring 1990): 4-11.
6    Ibid.
7    FIRST: Aboriginal Artists of Newfoundland and Labrador. (St John’s, St John’s Native Friendship Centre, 1996), 82-83.