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Behind-The-Scenes of the 2020 Cape Dorset Print Collection

Oct 16, 2020
by Jessica MacDonald

On October 17th, the 2020 Cape Dorset Print Collection will be released, the latest in a series of print collections spanning more than 60 years.

In advance of the release, I reached out to Jordan McQuaid, the new Studio Manager at the print centre in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU. Installed in his position in the fall of last year, this release is McQuaid’s first with the studio. Below, McQuaid shares his experiences from the last year at the studio, which prints are standouts from this year’s collection and where things are going in the future. 

Jessica MacDonald (IAQ): What has your experience been like since you came to Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU?

Jordan McQuaid: I came here in October of last year, so I’m just shy of a full year up here. It's been really a great experience, but also a real learning curve. I am originally from Dublin, Ireland. Before I moved to Kinngait I spent a couple months in Toronto, ON, but I'm really a recent immigrant to Canada. Canadian culture in itself is new enough to me, let alone Inuit culture and moving up North!

It's been fantastic to get the opportunity to work with the printers and the artists here, and to be part of the incredibly rich history that the studio has. It's been a privilege. Normally a printmaking studio would have its clients and the clients would approach the studio. Here it works slightly differently: you have the artists out in the community, we purchase the work from them and from what we've purchased throughout the year, we make selections for the print collection. It works differently than what I'm familiar with, so it's been a really enlightening experience. It's been wonderful just being here, listening to everybody, figuring it all out, taking a backseat and soaking it all in. 


Qavavau Manumie
Distinguished Bear (2020) Etching and Aquatint 60.8x 52.5 Printer Studio PM

IAQ: Was there anything that really surprised you over your first year?

JM: Because I'm not from Canada, I had no real preconceptions about Inuit art or how the studio should operate or how artists make their work or what they want to make the work about. I had very few preconceptions about the place, the people, the work. So when I arrived, I was really just an open book. 

I think coming in on a blank slate like that has been quite beneficial. It's allowed me to hear what it is that the artists and the people who work in the studio on a daily basis want to see the space become and how they see it as it currently is. That's been a very exciting part of the role.

The studio has so much history; it celebrated its 60th year last year and it'll certainly celebrate its 120th year 60 years from now. I’m just trying to work as closely as possible with the people in the studio to see what vision they have for the studio and how they want to see it going forward.

IAQ: I love that vision for 60 years in the future!

JM: It's pretty amazing. When artists came together with people from the government who started up this whole thing, they had no idea that they were laying the foundations for Canada's longest running print studio, one of the most unique and interesting print studios in the world.

I feel completely honoured and privileged to play a small part over the next five or ten years in helping to lay a solid foundation for another 60 years or 100 years or whatever it may be. It's really wonderful being part of something that's so much bigger than yourself. 

IAQ: How did you approach the 2020 collection, your first with the studio?

JM: When I arrived last year, a portion of the collection had already been printed and a lot of it was in production. It wasn't until I was here for six months that I really got to get a handle on it. In terms of the content I was simply keeping an eye out alongside the printers in the studio—they have the keenest eyes for what would make a good print and what would be a successful image. This year's collection for me was about allowing the printers and the artists to make a lot of the choices. We are currently in the process of making the 2021 collection, and we’re now getting a much better macro view of what that collection is going to look like. We've got more systems in place.

It's about seeing commonalities in certain artists’ work, what they enjoy making, encouraging them and giving them a few ideas to try out and experiment with. And then when something is successful, we ask the artist, ‘Would you be happy to see that put into production?’ and when they give the green light we go ahead with it. 


Ningiukulu Teevee
Stepping Out (2020) Lithograph 53.6 x 72.2 cm Printer Niveaksie Quvianaqtuliaq

IAQ: Is there a print that really stands out to you from the 2020 release?

JM: There's a beautiful lithograph of an owl with kamiks, which I thought was a particularly strong print. It’s called Stepping Out by Ningiukulu Teevee. Here in the studio, we’ve begun inviting the artists in for proofing day, which is not something that's been done here very often. This was the first print where we really got a chance to get the artist in to have a look at the proofs and choose a couple of colors on the computer before it went into production. What I'm really looking for in the production is involving the artist and other printers, getting some teamwork going and dialogue flowing. There was something about that print that created a nice dynamic in the studio.

Another one that jogs my memory is the Nunavut Vampire by Malaija Pootoogook. That one was a lot of fun. We have a working title for prints up here, and then sometimes when it goes down [to Dorset Fine Arts (DFA)], if the artist is okay with it, DFA changes the name, because we try not to have the same title twice. Is it still called Nunavut Vampire?

IAQ: Yes, it is.

JM: That's great! Yeah, that was a really fun project. Malaija came in with the drawing, and then our printer Qavavau Manumie spotted it right away and said 'that's a nice drawing, that's something a little bit different.’ The composition of it with the bird inside the wolf or the bear there kind of looks like it’s in between eating it and cuddling it. It's very interestingly balance between something quite aggressive and something quite familial, something quite soft. So we decided to print it.

Shuvinai Ashoona came over as Qavavau was tracing the image onto the stone, and she said, 'Oh, the Nunavut vampire!' And that's how it got its name, which was a lot of fun. Originally I think it was Bear and Bird, a working title that we just have in the studio for when we're referencing it. In a way that speaks to the collaborative effort between Qavavau and Malaija, with the title by Shuvinai. The original drawing is white outlined in black. We decided to flip the bear and make it all black. It was quite a successful image, a really simple one color print, but the composition Malaija put together and the printing by Qavavau made it a really nice work. Everyone got a good laugh out of it being called Nunavut Vampire.


Malaija Pootoogook
Nunavut Vampire (2020) Stonecut 38.4 x 46.9 cm Printer Qavavau Manumie

With this year’s collection put away in the studio and the next one mid-production, what’s exciting to you about the future of the studio?

JM: It's funny, being up here is quite insular, as you can imagine. We’re so focused on getting the day-to-day tasks done—I’m so consumed with the 2021 print collection—that that very macro view of what's going on here can be difficult to answer. We're working very hard, like I said.  

We've got some very very exciting projects on the go; in the summer of 2020 we hosted a series of month long workshops which invited members of the community to work alongside our senior printers as a way to discover, train and support the next generation of printmakers. As a result we have a number of new trainees working full time in the studio. 

Looking forward to 2021, we will be implementing an artist resource space, where artists will have access to a wealth of books and magazines on an array of topics from art, design and history to Inuit culture, as well as a computer with internet and a colour printer. It will also include a significant amount of back-issues of IAQ! 

COVID has altered some of our residency and outreach programs, but we’re still going to host Anna Gaby from Toronto’s Open Studio at some point in the year, who will help continue to build the etching program here in the studio. I also continue to coordinate with the local elementary and high schools to organise tours and demonstrations for students by our artists, carvers and printers.

As the studio manager, I've been given the responsibility and the obligation to generate a positive and productive atmosphere in the studio for the artists. The wonderful thing about our print studio is it's not one artist working in solitude alone. Every piece of work is a collaborative effort.

Over the last six months, we've all been really enjoying a slight change in the dynamic of the studio, which is the kind of unpredictability that comes from having a truly honestly collaborative space where artists, printers, really everyone affiliated with the studio gets to contribute. Slowly but surely this collective, collaborative atmosphere contributes to the end product. We've already seen some slight changes and different approaches to printing with when there's more voices to be heard.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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