Artists often take inspiration from their own lives and translate these events and actions into their work. In the past artists, including Pitseolak Ashoona, RCA (1904-1983), Ennutsiak (1896-1967) and countless others, provided insight into traditional life and culture through their carvings and drawings. Today, artists continue this documentary impulse, but instead of traditional scenes of migration and childbirth, contemporary artists are creating work about watching television and fixing skidoos. Since the late 1940s the production of commercial sculpture has flourished in many communities across the Canadian Arctic, so it is not surprising, that this industry has inspired a body of artwork about stone carving. Through a selection of drawings and sculpture by various artists throughout the North, this portfolio showcases the step-by-step process of how carvings are made: from the harvesting of stone at a quarry, the carving, sanding and polishing of the carvings and, finally, to the sale of works by artists to local co-ops for distribution.
To compliment this portfolio, interviews were conducted with stone carvers Ning Ashoona and Pitseolak Qimirpik of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Noah Natakok of Iqaluit and Koochy Kolola of Kimmirut.
Kelly Etidloie Man and Stone (2013) Stone 27.9 x 17.8 x 10.2 cm Courtesy Canadian Arctic Producers Photo Erin Yunes, Abbott Imaging All works by cape dorset artists reproduced with permission of dorset fine arts
“We get the stone by boat. People sell it to the store and we buy it for about $2 per pound. I carry the stone home or take a taxi.”
— Pitseolak Qimirpik
Pudloo Samayualie COMPOSITION (THE QUARRY) (2015) Coloured pencil and ink 58.4 x 38.1 cm Courtesy Feheley Fine Arts
“I don’t quarry the stone myself, I buy it from the co-op. People bring in stone between July and October by boat. If the stone is small enough to carry, I bring it home myself. But if I buy a big stone, I will get someone to help me and bring it by snowmobile in the winter or a car or ATV in the summer.”
— Ning Ashoona
Jaco Ishulutaq Inuk with Stone (c. 2010) Stone 30.5 x 25.5 x 30.5 cm Courtesy Canadian Arctic Producers Photo Erin Yunes, Abbott Imaging
“Sometimes I buy stone, but most of the time I get it from Quijaqna, where my father and early carvers went for their stone. I bring it back to where I carve by snowmobile and manpower.”
— Koochy Kolola
Oviloo Tunnillie Self-Portrait with Carving Stone (1998) Serpentinite 53 x 37.5 x 33.3 cm Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery Photo Ernest Mayer
“I started carving in Repulse Bay when I was living there. There was a place close to town and the stone was free, so I would pick up stone for carving there. I will look at a stone for 10 minutes or so and if it has a shape, like a human or animal, then I know what to make with it.”
— Noah Natakok
Kellypalik Qimirpik Man Carrying Stone (2010) Stone 31.8 x 15.2 x 12.7 cm Courtesy Canadian Arctic Producers Photo Erin Yunes, Abbott Imaging
This piece first appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly
Interviews with Ashoona and Qimirpik took place by telephone on January 10, 2017, with Joe Takpaungi acting as a translator for Ashoona. Natakok was interviewed over Facebook Messenger on January 9 and February 3, 2017. Kolola responded via email on February 16, 2017. These interviews have been edited for clarity and condensed.