• Feature

How Has Printmaking Evolved at Kinngait Studios in the Last Sixty Years?

Jul 06, 2020
by Britt Gallpen, John Geoghegan, Taqralik Partridge, Evan Pavka and Alysa Procida

The history of printmaking in Canada is impossible to tell without looking to and celebrating the prolific output from the hamlet of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, and its unprecedented success. The origins of the program, now well worn art historical lore, have been recounted and analyzed across numerous texts and catalogues over the past six decades. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the inaugural Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection, the Inuit Art Quarterly considers the often unsung artists who have dedicated themselves to bringing the artistic visions of their peers to the fore. 

Inuit printmaking in Canada is a story of multiplicity. Inuit prints entered the international visual lexicon in a way that only two dimensional works can—with their striking graphic forms, often brilliant colours and scenes of life that became synonymous with Canada’s identity as the “Great White North.” Where stone sculptures can only be housed in one place at a time, prints go forth in numbers. Inuit prints can be found in places as varied as embassies, highrise boardrooms and the living room walls of modest households. Owning a work from a limited run offers admission, of a sort, to a unique group—one whose value increases with time. As with any great creation, these bodies of work also have a value that may not have been the express intent of the first artists who took up print as medium: their works are now priceless cultural heritage for the generations of Inuit that follow. 

It used to be generally assumed that Inuit do not buy Inuit art, and while not every Inuit home is decorated with prints from Kinngait, Ulukhaktok, Ivujivik, Qamani’tuaq, Panniqtuuq or Nain, every Inuk child lives in a world where imagery from their heritage can be found on stamps, calendars, co.ee mugs and coasters—as well as in the rooms of the world’s great museums. The stories told in and around these works fuel the living culture of Inuit today. As works that involve both the artist’s concepts and their meticulous adaptation by the skilled hands of printmakers, prints mark the collaboration between artists—which fits so well with Inuit values. They are also an important part of the history of the Inuit cooperative movements, which were early iterations of Inuit community organization. We learn about family ties, plant use, spiritual beliefs, long distance travel and countless other subjects from these works. And yes, some Inuit do buy Inuit art—and the value of these works is counted with all the knowledge they represent. 

Taqralik Partridge 

KingwatsiakIyolaCanadaGeeseTakingOff

Iyola Kingwatsiak
Canada Geese Taking Off (1959) Printmaker Iyola Kingwatsiak Stencil 46.3 x 60.4 cm
ALL IMAGES © DORSET FINE ARTS

Since 1957, the beginning of Kinngait’s printmaking program, printmakers have been the backbone of Kinngait Studios [1]. However, the great irony is that despite creating the prints themselves, their work of translating an artist’s drawing into a finished piece is often invisible. Though processes have evolved over the decades, the core work of these artists remains constant: to create beautiful, expertly rendered, original works of art that remain true, in content and style, to the original drawing, often created by another artist. 

Stonecut printmaking began in 1958 on James Houston’s return from Japan, based on the ukiyo’e method he learned from Un’ichi Hiratsuka. In Kinngait, he trained printmakers Iyola Kingwatsiak (1933–2000), Lukta Qiatsuk (1928–2004), Eegyvudluk Pootoogook (1931–2000) and Kananginak Pootoogook, RCA (1935–2010) in techniques that included stonecut and stencil. However, the process they adopted was unlike other studios, in that its collaborative nature flew in the face of convention, which held that to be an original print, the artist must directly work on the print matrix itself. Instead, printmakers worked—as they still do in these media—to faithfully interpret another artist’s work through the stone. In the early years, printers would quarry large stones, sanding them flat and occasionally using the shape of the stone to influence the work on the page. The physical labour involved in these early days—selecting, quarrying, transporting, sanding and incising—cannot be overstated. “What I constantly say to my clients,” explains Patricia Feheley, a dealer of Inuit prints for over 30 years, “is to leave aside the imagery and the colour and look at these prints. Consider that someone has done this: has cut into a stone and has put this paper down four or six times,” [2].

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Kenojuak Ashevak
Six-Part Harmony (2011) Printmaker Qavavau Manumie Stonecut 62.2 x 99.5 cm

These first printmakers were remarkable not only for their diligence and skill, but also for their ingenuity. In stark contrast to the marketing materials produced at the time, which effectively shrouded the process in the romanticized exoticism of invented sealskin stencils, these printers used painstaking labour to precisely carve other artists’ work into linoleum tiles and later stone. The experimental nature of these works is visible in the way that technique can be seen to develop significantly from year to year in early collections, with the printmakers’ contributions only noted through the application of their individual chops on prints; no printmakers were acknowledged by name in the community’s annual print catalogues until 1982. 

All four of the community’s original printmakers were also accomplished sculptors, whose sense of composition and movement leant itself to carving print stones. Kingwatsiak, celebrated for his intricate carvings of birds, successfully translated these skills into two-dimensional work, both as a printmaker and as a graphic artist. His stencil Canada Geese Taking Off (1959), showing six large birds, with necks outstretched and wings up, ready for takeoff, was presented to Queen Elizabeth II that same year at an exhibition of the inaugural print collection in Stratford, ON. The most beloved of Qiatsuk’s prints is perhaps the stonecut Owl, also included in the 1959 collection, with its bold lines and expressive pose. While Eegyvudluk Pootoogook rarely made his own prints, he is responsible for incising over 200 stonecuts, including the iconic Enchanted Owl (1960) by Kenojuak Ashevak, CC, ON, RCA (1927–2013). One of the most influential and consistent printers from the beginning was Kananginak Pootoogook, a graphic artist in his own right, and along with Kingwatsiak and Qiatsuk, one of the original signatories of the incorporation documents for the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative, the organization that oversees Kinngait Studios. While Kananginak is perhaps best known for his images of expressive animals, as a printmaker he was also particularly adept at creating precise lines, complemented with beautiful colour. Speaking to his dual role in the studio, as both a printmaker and a graphic artist whose works were printed by others, Kananginak expressed his trust with the quality of the studio’s output overall, naming his colleagues “experts” in their approach—a sentiment echoed by many working across media in the studio [3]. 

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Eegyvudluk Ragee
Bird and Captive Fish (1984) Printmaker Udluriak Towkie Pudlat Etching and aquatint 40 x 45 cm

This trust formed the foundation of the program because it was designed to distribute labour between several people. The process has changed little over the years: studio managers and printmakers would select drawings and often isolate individual elements for translation into a print. After incising the stone and pulling a test print to ensure the graphic had transferred well to the page, printmakers and arts officers (generally not the graphic artists, particularly at the outset of the program) would select colour treatment. In the early period, many of the drawings translated into prints were done in graphite, with no additional colour. As materials like coloured pencil and indelible marker became available to artists in the late 1960s, the prints became more colourful and detailed, responding to the new styles of drawings produced with greater access to materials. 

The process and supplies used for stonecut prints have continued to shift. For the past several decades the studio has used slate from pool tables, a much more uniform or consistent surface to work from than local stone. “We started to use slate in the early 1990s,” explains former Studio Manager Jimmy Manning [4]. “Before that, we used serpentine and other soft stone, but we had to be very careful when we were using those, especially when recreating precise lines, which could be easily damaged. When we began using slate, a uniform stone, it became much easier to carve into the surface.” Printmakers also became more sophisticated in their registration methods, including reductive stonecut printing, which opened up new technical possibilities, as well as expanded colour use. 

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Pitaloosie Saila
Woman of Old (1984) Printmaker Pitseolak Niviaqsi Lithograph 67.5 x 50.3 cm

Reductive stonecut printing is an incremental practice in which an entire image is first carved in relief, partially inked (usually in a single colour though sometimes multiple) and transferred to paper. Next, the parts of the image that are to remain that initial colour are carved away from the stone, the remaining parts of the stone are inked in a new colour, and printed again. The process is repeated until all the colours have been inked and pulled. It takes extraordinary skill to produce a perfectly aligned and coloured print using this method. “There is a print by Kenojuak Ashevak in particular, Six-Part Harmony (2011), that took Qavavau Manumie a very long time to print,” recalls Feheley. “You have the aesthetic of the imagery coupled with these extraordinary colours, but it’s the sheer fact that it went back down on the stone so many times—it was perfectly executed. It is one of the most magnificently printed pieces I’ve ever seen.” 

Soon after, artists in the studio started experimenting with other printmaking methods, like copper etchings and lithography, that offered them the chance to work directly on the printing surface, facilitating new ways of working and creating more print opportunities. Even before lithography was introduced, etchings were printed in the community—as early as 1961, with the first work, Towards a Gathering, engraved by Kiakshuk (1886–1966) and printed by Terry Ryan. This method allowed artists such as Pitseolak Ashoona, CM, RCA (c. 1904–1983), Jamasie Teevee (1910–1985) and Kovinaktilliak Parr (1930–1998) to create their own works in print without an intermediary. Etchings had a very promising debut, making up all but six of the 69 prints in the 1962 print collection, and were included annually until 1976, when they stopped being released. The reception of the early etchings was inconsistent and although these works more directly reflected the hand of the artist, the media itself limited the possibilities for integration of colour which had become increasingly bold in the stonecuts, stencils and recently introduced lithographs, produced in the 1970s. 

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Saimaiyu Akesuk
Latcholassie’s Birds (2013) Printmaker Niveaksie Quvianaqtuliaq Lithograph 57 x 38.3 cm

Lithography offered greater graphic agility and introduced a new style that foregrounded texture, sinuous lines and bold backgrounds. In 1971, former coop Manager Terry Ryan purchased, with help from art dealer Avrom Isaacs, a lithography press from Toronto-based artist Charles Pachter [5]. Its addition to the studio allowed artists to work directly on a stone or aluminium plate with a grease pencil to produce highly detailed original graphics. After the initial graphic is captured, the plate is etched, leaving the marked areas intact to attract the coloured ink. Despite being teased in the 1973 catalogue, it was not until Wallace Brannen arrived in the community in 1974 as Arts Advisor that the program took o. and the first set of lithographs was released as part of the annual print collection in 1975 [6]. 

The medium of lithography, as curator and gallerist Leslie Boyd points out, was also popular because it suited “artists who had more narrative than graphic styles.” Pitseolak Niviaqsi, RCA (1947–2015), one such artist, was one of the studio’s most accomplished and prolific lithographers, leading the lithography program in Kinngait from its inception until his recent passing. Along the way, Niviaqsi achieved Master Printer status—a well-known and respected international designation. Niviaqsi was also identified early on as a natural teacher. In 1977 he travelled to Ulukhaktok (Holman), Inuvialuit Settlment Region, NT, with Brannen and Manning, who was then Assistant Arts Advisor, to teach the process to other artists. “Though also an artist himself and occasionally printing his own work,” recalls Boyd, “he was better known as a printmaker, as he was able to bring not only technical expertise, but also an excellent eye to the process.” Such technical acumen and experimentation was evident in Niviaqsi’s involvement in pioneering the technique of the rainbow roll, a characteristic of prints in the early 1980s, where the printmaker would mix colour to roll across an image to create a background wash. 

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Qavavau Manumie
Celestial Flight (2018) Printmaker Qavavau Manumie Lithograph 38.7 x 61.5 cm

While Niviaqsi was innovating with lithography, other artists were expressing renewed interest in etchings. Debuting in the 1980 print collection, two portfolios were released that for the first time made use of vibrant aquatint and hand-colouring. Notably, all of the printmakers were women. Despite women artists taking on lead roles in Ulukhaktok and Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, this was the first time women in Kinngait were trained in the printmaking process. The three women, Auksuali Ottokie, Quyuk Simeonie and Udluriak Towkie Pudlat, worked in the engraving studio with graphic artists to translate copperplate engravings into finished prints. Though the women were responsible for inking and printing the etchings, they did not use chops to mark their labour, nor were individual printers identified in the annual catalogue. Despite the best efforts of Ottokie, Simeonie and Pudlat, who worked to translate the graphics of many artists into small but powerful etchings, by the mid-1980s enthusiasm had waned and the activities in the etching studio ceased for a second time. 

In 1994, Montreal-based printer and founder of Studio PM Paul Machnik arrived at the studio to lead etching workshops and establish a renewed interest in the medium. “The etchings done before were more along the lines of engravings,” Machnik notes. He was interested in encouraging artists to experiment with the medium and explore strategies that had not been attempted before in the studio. Working with artists Ashevak, Mary Pudlat (1923–2001), Sheojuk Etidlooie (1929–2009) and others, Machnik introduced a new approach to printmaking, instead of using drawings as reference for these etchings, he was “keen for them to go at it freely,” and draw directly on the plate. Following the first workshop, four etching/aquatints produced and proofed in Kinngait, and later fully editioned in Montreal, were included in the 1995 annual print collection. The prints were enthusiastically received and Studio PM has been a mainstay in the collections ever since, producing hundreds of works in bold colours, and occasionally in very large scale, like Ashevak’s Angakuit Qaijut (emerging spirits) (2010), a triptych that measures over three metres wide. 

TeeveeNingiukuluSikuSiggiaju(SpringBreakUp)

Ningiukulu Teevee
Siku Siggiaju (Spring Break Up) (2014) Printmaker Cee Pootoogook Stonecut and stencil 62 x 75 cm

This persistent interest in lithography is unsurprising, given the technical difficulties inherent in etchings and the presence of former Studio Manager William Ritchie, a fixture in the studio from 1988 to 2019 and himself an accomplished lithographer. “[Ritchie] is such a well-trained lithographer that he has brought lithography in Kinngait not just to a level of perfection in printing, but to a level of exploiting the medium for all that can be done with it,” notes Feheley. “As a result, the lithographic prints created in the studio underscore a real understanding of what can be achieved with the medium.” Today, lithographs from Kinngait are marked by their bright, crisp colours and diffused, warm light, and they continue to retain the studio’s commitment to collaboration. Saimaiyu Akesuk’s print debut in the 2013 collection, Latcholassie’s Birds, for instance, allowed her to work with the lithographers in the studio and experience the process first hand. “When they were done with the outline, I [went] down to the shop and coloured the plates,” the artist explains. “There were three plates that I was supposed to colour so they could make the print. I usually only help with the lithograph, not the stonecut, because I can colour the face [of the plate].” Beyond lithography, Ritchie, like Ryan and Manning, has encouraged studio artists to work in and experiment with other print media, including gum bichromate and sugar lifts; however, stonecut remains the mainstay of production in Kinngait. 

Today, a small but highly skilled group of printers continues to work in the studio, creating stunning, innovative prints. Though Qiatsuq Niviaqsi began his career as a lithographer, he transitioned to the stonecut studio in 1980 and has been working in the medium ever since. His careful, deliberate style is perfectly suited to creating fine detail and texture, a necessity to faithfully render the tactile, lush graphics made in the past decade, such as Handstand (2010) by Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, the print of which conscientiously mimics Ashoona’s short strokes or Tim Pitsiulak’s (1967–2016) Whale Sounding (2012) which skillfully utilizes negative space as well as a stippling-like technique to suggest three dimensional form. Niviaqsi’s style is similarly reflected in his process. “Extreme patience with a very quiet focus,” recalls Boyd about the printmaker. “And [he] absolutely never makes a mistake.” 

PitsiulakTimWhaleSounding

Tim Pitsiulak
Whale Sounding (2012) Printmaker Qiatsuq Niviaqsi Stonecut and stencil 78.4 x 55.5 cm

While Niviaqsi has collaborated with some of the most celebrated artists to pass through the studio over his career, he has also used his skill to translate the drawings of a younger generation of artists working in the studio, including Akesuk’s Courting Birds (2015), admittedly one of the artist’s favourites. 

Like Niviaqsi, Qavavau Manumie began working as a lithographer in 1988 and is now a distinguished stonecut printmaker. A versatile and precise artist, his work can be recognized by its flowing, natural lines. “Every time I make something, [Manumie] asks to check up on it and see if it’s workable,” says Akesuk, when asked about her frequent collaborations with the artist. “When he does a stonecut of one of my works, he looks at the friction of the colouring that I do and follows my colouring and my stroke. He loves working on my drawings.” 

Manumie, a respected artist who has exhibited widely across Canada, has unsurprisingly cut the blocks for many of his own prints, in addition to interpreting the work of others. In Celestial Flight, included in the 2018 print release, one of the artist’s signature diminutive parka-clad beings, or Inugarulligaarjuit, is seen tightly gripping the back of a bird in mid-flight. “Those little guys are helping spirits,” Manumie explains about the ethereal cloud of even smaller cerulean figures that surround the pair. “[they are helping] the guy flying through the air on the bird.” 

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Niveaksie Quvinaqtuliaq
working on a print in the Kenojuak Cultural Centre.
PHOTO CATHERINE DEAN

In the early 1990s, Niveaksie Quvianaqtuliaq began working at the studio as an assistant before becoming a trainee sometime between 1995 and 1996 Currently, he is the only full-time lithographer in the studio. “I like working with all of [the artists],” Quvianaqtuliaq explains, “but mostly I remember working with Kenojuak Ashevak, Kananginak Pootoogook and Tim Pitsulak. I used to talk with them, interact with them. That is why we work with the artists, because we have to talk with each other to understand how the process will work in the lithographic area.” 

The printmaker also fondly recalls the discussion surrounding one of Annie Pootoogook’s (1969–2016) few, but evocative, prints: the multicoloured array of underwear Briefcase (2005). “First, when we were looking at it, we asked her if [it was] okay to make it into a printed edition. She asked us, ‘Do you think people will buy that kind of stu. in the South?’ Bill [William] Ritchie replied, ‘Oh yeah, a lot of people.’” Though initially unsure of its reception, Quvianaqtuliaq remains pleased with the resulting print—one that sold out quickly and was acquired by numerous major institutions, including the National Gallery of Canada, the Indigenous Art Centre and the Canadian Museum of History. 

SailaOoloosieSunlitSky

Ooloosie Saila
Sunlit Sky (2019) Printmaker Niveaksie Quvianaqtuliaq Lithograph 58.5 x 73 cm

Hailing from a family of artists and a carver by training, Cee Pootoogook has brought his expertise to stonecuts since 2009, when he joined the studio as a printmaker. Also a graphic artist whose work has been featured in the annual print collections since 2012, he carries the same depth and complexity evident in his own work into his translation of the images of others. The prints that Pootoogook produces are highly detailed and seek to translate the mark making of artists like Papiara Tukiki, Ningiukulu Teevee and more into brilliant patterns. 

Innovation has always been at the heart of printmaking in Kinngait, but what has remained constant throughout the development of the print program is the mutual respect between artists and printmakers, which shapes every aspect of the process and without which these prints would not be possible. “If the drawing had three or four colours in it, then we tried to incorporate those into the print,” Manning explains, adding “we tried to come up with more than three trial proofs that we were able to show to the artist. It was [then] up to the artist to decide which colour they preferred.” Akesuk recognizes this attentiveness today, noting, “they always choose the colours I have selected, or try to use the same colours as the crayons I’ve used [in the drawing].” The artist is also quick to identify the printmaker’s detail and commitment to capturing her bold, graphic mark-making. “They don’t really change anything around,” she continues. “They stay pretty true to my drawing.” 

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Nicotye Samayualie
Polished Buttons (2013) Printmaker Qiatsuq Niviaqsi Stonecut 53.5 x 76.3 cm

With the fall 2018 opening of the Kenojuak Cultural Centre, printmakers in the community have a new space in which to innovate and to hone their skills and one that encourages this collaborative spirit. Now with a new space to work, printmakers are already looking to the future: “I would like to see more artists, younger artists,” Quvianaqtuliaq says about the future of printmaking in Kinngait, noting the importance of engaging more members of the community to activate both of the presses in the new studio. “We need more people here, but our work is involved and there is a lot that needs to be learned.” As the studio enters its sixth decade of production, the expertise, dedication and commitment of generations of printmakers and their innovative practices continue to inspire the work of artists far beyond the community. The rarely considered or seen contributions of the numerous printmakers involved throughout the history of Kinngait Studios imparts a powerful and lasting legacy on future artists—some of whom we have had the chance to know and others we’ve yet to meet. 

NOTES 

1 This Feature was researched and written by Britt Gallpen, John Geoghegan, Taqralik Partridge, Evan Pavka and Alysa Procida. 

2 All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, taken from conversations with the Inuit Art Quarterly conducted between June and July 2019. 

 3 “Interview with Kananginak Pootoogook and Marion Jackson discussing his experience as a printmaker, James Houston, and the history of printmaking in Cape Dorset,” Canadian Museum of History, 7:28, February 20, 1979, trans. Mukshowya Niviaqsi, https://www.historymuseum.ca/capedorsetprints/ history/1950s.php.  

4 The following are among those who have held leadership positions in the studio across the past six decades: Terry Ryan, General Manager, 1960–2000; Robert Patterson, Studio Manager, 1964, 1973, 1985, 1991; Wallace Brannen, Studio Manager, 1974–1984; William Ritchie, Studio Manager, .1988–1990, 1996–2019; Jimmy Manning, Arts Advisor, 1973–2000, General Manager, .2000–2009.

5 Leslie Boyd Ryan, Cape Dorset Prints: A Retrospective — Fifty Years of Printmaking in the Kinngait Studios (Petaluma: Pomegranate Press, 2007), 84.  

6 The year 1975 holds significant associations for many Inuit, aligning with the signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by the Inuit of Nunavik. This event had importance for all Inuit as well as other Indigenous peoples in Canada, as it was the first comprehensive land claims agreement of its kind. This year also saw the first fully elected council in the Northwest Territories, with a majority of Inuit and Dene representatives.


This
Feature first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.