Kenojuak Ashevak Owl’s Embrace (1995) Lithograph 57.1 x 61 cm
REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION DORSET FINE ARTS © THE ARTIST
When I think of owls, the first thing that comes to mind is their large piercing eyes that allow them to see in the dark. In Owl’s Embrace (1995), Kenojuak Ashevak captures this trait with striking accuracy, the whites of the owl’s eyes popping against the speckled black background that is reminiscent of a starry night sky. The owl figure is situated with two raven-like birds within its wingspan and a wolf in the center with its head tilted high as if howling to the moon. This hierarchical cascade evokes feelings of protection and watchfulness, honouring the owl’s all-knowing presence in the animal world.
—Lisa Frenette, Associate Editor
Jeannie Snowball Ookpik (1965) Sealskin, hide and cotton thread 25.4 x 20.3 x 19 cm
COURTESY NEW JERSEY STATE MUSEUM © THE ARTIST
You can’t have a list of ookpiks without featuring Jeannie Snowball’s iconic sealskin owl, with its furry rotund body and inquisitive eyes. The “OG” of ookpiks, Snowball’s handicraft was chosen to represent Canada at a 1963 Philadelphia trade show, where it captured the hearts and wallets of southern buyers while earning its place as the country’s unofficial mascot. Copyrighted by the federal government on behalf of the Fort Chimo co-operative in 1964, Ookpik became the star of comics, books and songs, and remains a nostalgic symbol of Montreal’s Expo ’67.
Snowball was a talented seamstress, who, according to a story from her granddaughter, Etua Snowball, originally created the doll as a way of paying tribute to an owl that she hunted to save her family from near-starvation. Snowball’s story of resilience has faded into the background, while her Ookpik design has become ubiquitous within the North and Inuit culture and as a source of inspiration for contemporary artists such as Kablusiak.
—Sue Carter, Deputy Editor
Ningiukulu Teevee Owl and Friend (n.d.) Graphite, coloured pencil and ink 58.4 x 76.2 cm
REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION DORSET FINE ARTS COURTESY MADRONA GALLERY © THE ARTIST
Want to get acquainted with an owl? Look no further than the work of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, graphic artist Ningiukulu Teevee. In the tradition of Kenojuak Ashevak, Teevee has countless ways to describe these intriguing birds of prey that’ll bring you joy. Taking inspiration from often-told Inuit stories like The Raven and the Owl, Teevee imagines these familiar characters in new scenarios, creating dynamic and fully realized personalities that come to life and make me laugh. With her piercing yellow eyes, I was drawn to this drawing, Owl and Friend (n.d.), looking closer at this white ookpik set against a field of pink and blue. Feathers clasped behind her back, she looks over her shoulder and walks forward as the tail of her amauti trails behind her. Moving my eyes down to her kamiits—there!—I finally spotted her feathered friend, the tiniest beak of her old pal, the raven, barely peeking out from this surprisingly large owl’s toe.
—Leanne Inuarak-Dall, Contributing Editor
Michael Massie Thinking Long and Intensely About Contemplation (2016) Anhydrite, bone, ebony, birch and brass 15.3 x 20.3 x 8.5 cm
COURTESY SPIRITWRESTLER GALLERY © THE ARTIST
Made of hard stone instead of cuddly sealskin and stuffing, this isn’t a typical ookpik. Michael Massie said that the title came to him when he saw the raw stone, and he set out to match it by carving an owl deeply in thought. And yet Thinking Long and Intensely About Contemplation (2016), with its triangular body leaning slightly to one side and feet flopping out at the base, retains the shape and feel of a childlike ookpik doll, the mottled body like the downy feathers of an owlet with narrowed eyes peering down at its own talons like human babies do with their toes.
—Jessica MacDonald, Associate Editor
Agnes Nanogak Furious Owl (1977)
REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION MUTUAL ART © THE ARTIST
To me, one of the most striking things about snowy owls are their black markings that contrast stark against their white plumage. Agnes Nanogak’s delicate linework captures them beautifully in this vivid print. She balances the bold sharp lines with elongated curves that give a great sense of the action in this scene. The eyes are drawn to those lethal talons and with a downcast head and drooping legs, there is no question who is predator and who is prey. As if we needed another cue, this ookpik’s crimson crown and glowing yellow eyes secure its place at the top of the food chain while bringing a vivid splash of colour to the page.
—Napatsi Folger, Associate Editor