• Feature

How Inuit Artists Came Together to Establish Nunavik’s First Co-op

Iqqaumaviit? Remembering the Inuit Behind the Co-ops

Oct 21, 2021
by Napatsi Folger

This Portfolio tells stories about the founding of Canadian Arctic artist co-operatives with a focus on the contributions of the Inuit involved. Examining the roles of hard-working local Inuit artists like Kananginak Pootoogook, RCA, Jeannie Snowball, Levi Qumaluk, Jessie Oonark, CM, RCA and Helen Kalvak, CM, RCA, who were essential in establishing and maintaining artist co-operatives across the Canadian Arctic.


Levi Qumaluk
Untitled (Hunter and Seal) (1965) Stonecut 61 x 71.1 cm

The Puvirnituq Co-op, which opened in 1960, was one of the first successful artist co-operatives in Nunavik. The lifeblood of the Puvirnituq co-operative movement included artists like Levi Qumaluk, Aisa Qoperqualu, Charlie Sivuarapik and Peter Amautik, who worked hard to produce artwork and establish a membership co-operative after the Hudson’s Bay Company manager announced they were considering ceasing the purchase of local arts and crafts. Local men like Peter Murdoch and Father André Steinmann helped these artists to learn about and research what was needed to establish a successful co-operative. These Inuit artists travelled with Father Steinmann to southern cities like Toronto, ON, Montreal, QC, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to scout out interest in a burgeoning Inuit art market. With a career spanning more than 60 exhibitions across Canada and the United States, Levi Qumaluk was a prolific carver and printmaker from Puvirnituq, Nunavik, QC. In the early days of the co-op, Qumaluk often contributed money he earned selling his art to pay co-op staff, who would otherwise have gone without wages. 


Levi Qumaluk
Mother with Child in her Amautiq (c.1967) Stone 57.2 x 33 x 22.9 cm 

"The co-op was started by a group of carvers, including my father, Aisa [Qoperqualu], and uncle Levi [Qumaluk]. It was not started by just one worker or manager, but several men who wanted to get together to help each other sell their carvings [at] fair prices. I was still a little boy when they opened the co-op, but I learned a lot from those men. Especially my uncles and grandfather, Qumaluk. 

I remember the first time I tried carving, I was four years old. I was watching my grandfather and I asked him to buy me something from the store when he sold his carving. He said, “No, I’m not going to do it for you; if you want something from the store you have to do it for yourself.” He knew he would not always be there in my life so he taught me to do the work. So I tried carving, I carved a rough shape of a man and he finished the details for me. My older brother and I learned to be carvers by watching our family, our uncles and grandfather and father." 

—Peter Boy Ittukallak, Carver and Hunting Guide 

This Portfolio was first published in the Fall 2021 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly


This series was made possible with the generous support of the Ontario Arts Council.

Read more from Iqqaumaviit? Remembering the Inuit Behind the Co-ops

How Did Kananginak Pootoogook Help Open Kinngait’s First Print Shop?

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