The first exhibition of Pangnirtung tapestries, organized by Virginia Watt, then Director of the Canadian Guild of Crafts (Quebec), was held at the Guild in Montreal in March 1972. Called In the Beginning, the exhibition represented the works of the initial 18 months of the Weave Shop’s operation.
Watt was one of the original people who supported the Weave Shop’s move from the production of blankets to tapestries. A 1971 report on the weaving project gave economic reasons for the move: “the quality [of the blankets] was high but the cost of teaching, production, northern overhead and shipping proved very expensive.” The report recommended the transfer to tapestry production because “the demand for tapestries of excellent quality and design was great and the supply was limited.” Even though In the Beginning represented the shop’s earliest tapestries and even included some training pieces, it was a tremendous success.
Charlotte Lindgren, a Swedish-born fibre artist from Halifax, NS, was brought in by the Government of the Northwest Territories as a consultant during part of the time (1978-1981) that Megan Williams and Deborah Hickman were managers. According to Hickman, Lindgren “set up the marketing system for the tapestries by going around and visiting all the Inuit art galleries she could in North America. She set up contacts with the best galleries and established an excellent marketing system.”
Because she wanted to expand creative directions and improve sales, Lindgren encouraged a greater variety of imagery and more concentration on the backgrounds. As well, she introduced the concept of editions. In that way, Lindgren explain, “when they hit on good ones [tapestries], they were able to repeat them. The weavers could zero in on the first one and have it done by someone who was very good with colours.” Subsequent copies of the edition would follow the same colour schemes as the original tapestry and could be done by other weavers. Pangnirtung tapestries are now regularly produced in editions of either 10 or 20, although a single weaver usually produces no more than two or three from each edition.
Malaya Akulukjuk Children at Summer Camp (1980) Courtesy IAF
Lindgren also brought in more tapestry weavers and encouraged a much larger format. “They had never done big ones until I worked for the shop. They still haven’t done ones as large as I would like. We held competitions to acquire more drawings. And we also introduced the idea of royalties to let the weavers know which of their works were being sold.”
In 1978, Megan Williams became the project manager, staying until 1980. During her management, there was another milestone show in the Weave Shop’s history—the November 1978 exhibition at the Snow Goose in Ottawa. This exhibition marked the beginning of a wider market for the tapestries. As well, the overall technical quality of the tapestries had reached new heights. Virginia Watt of the Canadian Guild of Crafts (Quebec) declared them to be “technically, light years away from the first ones.”
Under Kordula Depatie’s tenure as Weave Shop manager, there were more than a dozen exhibitions reaching almost every major city in Canada and a number of galleries in the United States as well. Depatie, a German-born weaver who has owned her own weave shop in Canada, became manager in 1987. She feels that the Weave Shop came of age during its second decade. The broad range of experience of the managers, consultants, artists and weavers during the first two decades gave the project diversity and strength.
Nevertheless, Depatie felt there were many challenges yet to meet. “I would like to give the shop stability for the years to come, by defining and fine-tuning operating policies and by establishing steady and good representation in galleries and with retail contacts,” she said. “I feel strongest about the tapestries. [The shop also produces ties, sashes, scarves and amauti belts.] For centuries, tapestries have been used to tell a story. The ability to communicate without words can be used by the Weave Shop to bring the lives of the North to many people. Tapestries can tell of the life of the North—its history, legends, nature and the present.”
This article was based on the research and text prepared for a book on the Pangnirtung Weave Shop, commissioned by the Government of the Northwest Territories.
It was originally published in the Spring 1989 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.
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