Raised in Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, and based in Ottawa, ON, Gloria Inugaq Putumiraqtuq is known as a skilled textile artist. Building on sewing knowledge passed on to her by her mother, Winnie Tatja, she depicts elaborate scenes of Inuit hunting, fishing and traditional food preparation—often replete with detailed embroidered animal figures—as well as vivid stories of shamans and spirit transformations. It is through these stories, meticulously brought to life in felt on wool duffel, that she proudly shares Inuit traditions. On the occasion of being longlisted for the 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, we speak with Putumiraqtuq about how she got her start, and what keeps her going as an artist.
Inuit Art Quarterly: Can you share how you got started as an artist?
Gloria Inugaq Putumiraqtuq: I was young when I started, maybe seven or eight. I would watch my mom do things, and help her out. My mom would be sewing in the early morning. One day, I told her I really liked one of the pieces—I remember it had a flock of flying geese that were closely embroidered in felt. It was a lot of work. She went out to the store and I went into the room where she did her sewing, and I tried stitching.
It wasn’t the same as my mom’s. Her stitches were smooth and light and very beautifully made. I did about six stitches all together, and then I heard her coming back, so I went to the kitchen and pretended I was never in there. She found out when she went back to her sewing, of course. The stitches weren’t hers! My mom just smiled and gave me a small bit of material and her patterns so that I could try. I made a small version of the geese she was making on a little square. It was hard! The stitches were ugly and out of line, but that was the first time that I tried sewing.
My mom kept me practicing. While we were sewing, she would tell stories and sometimes throat sing. We would sometimes just listen to the radio.
The first time I sold a wall hanging, it was small—like two foot by two foot, I guess? I was a teenager living in Baker Lake, and I felt so proud.
Gloria Inugaq Putumiraqtuq Composition (Ice Fishing & Caribou Hunting) (2002) Wool and felt 114 x 145 cm Courtesy Canada Council Art Bank © the artist
IAQ: How has your career changed and grown since that first sale?
GIP: I wanted to help my family’s finances, so whatever material we had, I asked my mom if I could use some and sew.
In the wintertime, I would stay home and do lots of sewing. I moved around a little bit, but I haven’t stopped sewing even though I left my hometown.
IAQ: What keeps you interested in creating, even as you move from place to place?
GIP: Culture, tradition, way of life. I want to keep the knowledge from my mother’s generation going, to make sure it is given to future generations. It’s important for us. We are Inuit. It is our culture and tradition. Way up North, our ways of life are changing, and we need to keep it strong.
I’ve been doing a little bit of carving here and there, too. When I am working, it’s relaxing. It’s a different way of thinking and being patient.
When my kids were six and nine, they were interested in watching me sew. I gave them materials, showed them how to start off, and I made them sew little squares—with a design of a goose, just like me when I was little! The older one almost finished it, and the younger one, it was not his type of work. The older one asked for another square though, so that’s good!
Gloria Inugaq Putumiraqtuq 5 Shamans (n.d.)Courtesy The Potomack Company © the artist
IAQ: When you’re creating, what do you listen to?
GIP: I like church music—something with a slow rhythm that’s comforting. Sometimes Inuktitut music or radio.
IAQ: Do you have a favorite snack to eat when you’re creating?
GIP: Whatever I can grab. Usually fruit or chips. Coffee, of course. I think my favourite would be frozen Arctic char or caribou.
IAQ: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
GIP: To help out everybody who’s having problems. It could be problems they’re having with their family, or just if someone needs to talk about their life—to be able to help them. That is a power I wish I had.
Installation view of Wall-Hangings by Gloria Inugaq Putumiraqtuq (2001)Courtesy Feheley Fine Arts
IAQ: What would winning the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award mean for you?
GIP: I want to keep sewing and working with material. I’m really anxious to start again. I’ve got so many pieces I am working on, and so many ideas.
There are a lot of things I hope for from this award. Of course, having support for material and supplies means a lot. But I also think it’s important to be able to show and share our work, and for Inuit artists to be able to meet with each other and learn from each other. It is amazing to see the artwork by other artists on the longlist. The jury is going to have a very difficult decision because everyone’s work is beautiful and very different from each other.
It’s important to keep our cultural traditions alive. I hope everyone who is making art keeps practicing, keeps going and doesn’t give up.
Read interviews with the other longlisted artists.
This interview was conducted by phone in December 2022. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award is made possible through the support of individual donors and RBC Emerging Artists.