• Feature

How 10 Inuit Artists Came Together to Weave an Olympic Tapestry

Jan 19, 2022
by IAQ

In 2010, the tapestry Achieving a Dream (2009) graced the walls of the Richmond Olympic Oval for the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. Behind its captivating presence is a story of the dedicated and skilled artists who created the piece. In this Legacy, the IAQ speaks with artists Andrew Qappik, CM, of Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung), NU, and David Cochrane of Scotland to weave together the tale of those who helped make the dream of an Olympic tapestry a reality. 

The weaving of tapestry is a detailed artistic practice, one that requires intricacy, commitment and physical effort. Tapestries combine beautiful imagery, storytelling and a range of colour palettes, calling us to reach out and touch them. It is no wonder that Inuit tapestries are highly sought after, especially those from renowned weaving studios such as the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio, located in the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts & Crafts in Panniqtuuq, NU. The studio produces a range of woven pieces, such as scarves, blankets and rugs, but it is their tapestries, both commissioned and editioned, that draw particular attention. This special place of creation and the interest in the talented works of its weavers led to the studio being commissioned to weave a tapestry for a historical moment in time—the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.


Kawtysie Kakee
weaving the tapestry at the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio, 2009

The Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games launched the Vancouver 2010 Venues’ Aboriginal Art Program, which was “designed to celebrate the spirit of the nation by promoting understanding of the rich cultures and traditions of the [Indigenous] peoples in Canada.” [1] Through this program, the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio received $100,000 from VANOC, in collaboration with Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), to create the six-by-ten-foot woven piece. The tapestry was one of five permanent artworks that would be unveiled at the Winter Games in February 2010. [2] 

With the piece commissioned and the start of the Winter Games looming in the distance, a new question emerged: What will the design be? This was important, as it needed to combine Olympic thematic elements with Inuit imagery and perspectives. In stepped Andrew Qappik, CM, a skilled graphic and print artist from Panniqtuuq, to create the design that would eventually become the Olympic tapestry. 


Achieving a Dream
begins to take shape at the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio, 2009

Qappik combined the works of four Inuit artists—Dinah Andersen of Nunatsiavut, Sammy J. Kudluk of Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, QC, and Mabel Nigiyok and Louie Nigiyok of Ulukhaktok, Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT. The creative team was chosen through an adjudication process to represent each Inuit region. [3] Qappik says it was a “privilege to create a work of different artists put together into one tapestry.” [4]

But the creation didn’t stop there; it needed to embody an Olympic feel. This resulted in the interworking of images of athletes performing a variety of sports, from speed skating and ski jumping to hockey and the high jump. “I put in the sorts of sports [seen at the Olympics], scenes of traditional games and landscapes from different regions of Canada—of the North,” says Qappik. The hockey player on the right side of the tapestry had a special meaning for the artist. “At that time we had an Inuit hockey player who’s from Rankin Inlet: Jordin Tootoo. I put the Inuit hockey player there for the Canadian team,” he says.

DavidCochraneLeavesDovecotStudiosBadgeOnLastDayAtPangnirtungTapestry Studio2009_webready

David Cochrane leaves a Dovecot Studios badge on his last day at the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio, 2009

With the design set, the weavers of the studio stepped in. The artists included Oolassie Akulukjuk, Kawtysie Kakee, Leesee Kakee, Anna Etuangat and Kathy Battye. Two additional weavers assisted with the process; one was Deborah Hickman from Mahone Bay, NS, a weaver and artistic adviser to the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts & Crafts. The other was David Cochrane, a weaver from Scotland who was approached by Hickman. Cochrane was invited to Panniqtuuq for six weeks to work on the tapestry. He jumped at the chance to be involved in the project. “Coming from Scotland, the language barrier was overcome partly with Deborah’s grasp and use of Inuktitut and conversely Elena Akpalialuk’s knowledge of English, coupled with my own observations in learning body language and our joint common language of tapestry weaving—our craft,” says Cochrane. [5]

In creating a tapestry, “wool or cotton fibre (weft) is woven (beaten down with a hand-held wooden bobbin) in and out between tensioned cotton string (warp), building up in steps to depict the image,” says Cochrane. But before the weavers could begin their work in earnest, the design needed to be “enlarged with an overhead projector and I had to help them. Some of the words had to be drawn onto the paper. That was a blueprint for the weavers,” Qappik says. 


Oolassie Akulukjuk
and Kawtysie Kakee work together on the tapestry at the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio, 2009

The artists began by dressing the loom with cotton warp threads that are designed to be sturdy and able to withstand the rigours of weaving. Of the thread that was used for the tapestry, Cochrane says, “The wool supplied by Harrisville Designs Inc., a U.S. company, a mix between Australian and New Zealand wool, was a perfect weaving wool—new and refreshing.” Once the loom was dressed, the weavers then placed Qappik’s composite design behind the loom and transferred the image to the threads using permanent marker. Working together as a team took patience, collaboration and dedication. Of working with the Uqqurmiut weavers, Cochrane says they “smiled and laughed a lot and made me feel very welcome. Their hands were always in motion, be it weaving or winding and crocheting during tea breaks—productive and happy.”

In the end, it took the team of seven weavers 2,030 hours to complete the tapestry, working during the day and sometimes long into the evenings throughout the summer of 2009 to complete it on time. The result is a winter scene that comes alive with a range of bright colours and lively depictions of Inuit and non-Inuit, threaded together to tell a story. Beyond the individuals engaging in sports activities is an inuksuk in the distance amongst snow-covered hills and an iglu situated right in the centre of a scene of Inuit playing traditional games. Satisfied with their creation, the weavers cut the tapestry off the loom and shipped it off to its final destination—Achieving a Dream was now on route to Vancouver, BC.


Oolassie Akulukjuk, Dinah Anderson, Kathy Battye, Anna Etuangat, Leesee Kakee, Kawtysie Kakee, Sammy Kudluk, Louie Nigiyok, Mabel Nigiyok
and Andrew Qappik with support from David Cochrane and Deborah Hickman Achieving a Dream (2009) Wool 172.7 x 301 cm

In February 2010 the tapestry was unveiled at the Richmond Olympic Oval. It hung for the duration of the 2010 Winter Games and is now a permanent fixture at the location. On seeing the final piece, Qappik says, “It’s a complex compilation of different regions, sports and landscapes. It turned out really well.” For Cochrane, the piece would not be what it is without the talented weaving of the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio weavers and the design work of Qappik, “who fused a lineage of Inuit culture and knowledge in a contemporary tapestry, using his imagination and skill in the production of prints.”


1 “First Vancouver 2010 Indoor Competition Venue Completed,” Office of the Premier, VANOC, July 7,2008, archive.news.gov.bc.ca/releases/news_releases_2005-2009/2008otp0176-001049.htm

2 “Canada Celebrates the Talent of Aboriginal Artists at 2010 Olympic Venues,” Government of Canada, October 16, 2009, canada.ca/en/news/archive/2009/10/canada-celebrates-talent-aboriginal-artists-2010-olympic-venues.html.

3 “Tapestry Commissions,” Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts & Crafts, accessed September 8, 2021, uqqurmiut.ca/TapComm1.html

4 All quotes from Andrew Qappik, interview with Lisa Frenette (Associate Editor, IAF), September 2021. 

5 All quotes from David Cochrane, interview with Lisa Frenette (Associate Editor, IAF), September 2021.

This Legacy was first published in the Winter 2021 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly

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