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.
The Holman Eskimo Co-operative was established in 1961. World-renowned artists Helen Kalvak and Alec Aliknak Banksland worked with community priest Father Henri Tardy to establish an artist co-operative to bring in stable income for the families in the area. Seeing the overwhelming success of artists in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, inspired them to send work to the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council (CEAC) and establish a working relationship with the institution.
Father Tardy noted in a 1978 interview with CEAC member Mary Sparling the work of artists like Kalvak, Banksland and Agnes Nanogak was so exceptional that when they first sent samples to be reviewed by the CEAC, the council believed the work to be too sophisticated for the Inuit artists to have produced without the artistic guidance and influence of the non-Inuit studio staff.
Harry Egutak inking the stone for Helen Kalvak’s work Plucking the Duck, released in the 1982 print editionPHOTO BERNADETTE DRISCOLL ENGELSTAD
"I started making art before I worked at the co-op, helping out my dad and my auntie when I was young doing woodcuts and stone cuts. Gradually they asked me if I wanted to work at the art centre and so I said yes. That’s when I got to work with great artists like Elsie Klengenberg, Mona Ohoveluk, Agnes Nanogak and Harry Egotak—one of the artists who produced the first Holman Print Collections—and other amazing Elders like Peter Palvik and Helen Klengenberg. Those were the Elders that started the stencil printing. They were my role models. A lot of their artwork [showed] stories about the way they lived. And they were really beautiful pieces. One thing I learned from the first generation of artists was that when you create something from the soul, it comes out so beautifully and it [connects with] other people. Those mentor relationships enhance you—in your artwork—and they bring the most beautiful feelings that you have in you, out."
—Mary Okheena, Artist and Printmaker at Holman Eskimo Co-Operative Since 1977
This Portfolio was first published in the Fall 2021 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly
Read more from Iqqaumaviit? Remembering the Inuit Behind the Co-ops
How Did Kananginak Pootoogook Help Open Kinngait’s First Print Shop?
How Inuit Artists Came Together to Establish Nunavik’s First Co-op
What Did Ookpik Dolls Have to Do With Kuujjuaq’s Co-op Movement?