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.
Historically non-Inuit have been celebrated almost exclusively for the establishment and upkeep of Inuit artist co-operatives. Certainly, men like James Houston, OC, and Father Henri Tardy were integral in the training and development of printmaking and art studios in the Northwest Territories during the 1900s. However, without the hard work and art created by Inuit artists there would be no co-operatives. To celebrate the legacies of early twentieth-century Inuit artists we explore the roles of Inuit in the early days of co-operative art movements in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU; Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, QC; Puvirnituq, Nunavik, QC; Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, and Ulukhaktok (Holman), Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT.
Nunatsiavut, the Inuit region of Arctic Labrador, is not represented in this Portfolio because they were not recognized as Inuit by the federal government until the 1980s. As a result, artist co-operatives were not provided the same funding or support in the region. Despite this injustice, Nunatsiavummiut were and continue to be prolific artists with a growing representation in the international art community.
Lukta Qiatsuk rolling ink onto a stone block. He is making a print of Owl and Hare by Kiakshuk, Kinngait, 1960COURTESY LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA/ROSEMARY GILLIAT EATON FONDS, E011177385 PHOTO ROSEMARY GILLIAT EATON
While Kananginak Pootoogook’s name is synonymous with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative (WBEC) for his detailed narrative wildlife drawings and prints, the artist’s full involvement with the co-operative is much broader. An early friend and collaborator of James Houston, Pootoogook was instrumental in opening the first print shop in Kinngait, NU, in 1958, and teaching local Inuit techniques of copper engraving, lithography, stone cutting and silk-screening. He also served as president of the Board of Directors for many years.
“Back in the early 1970s I was a trainee for the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative. I did a little bit of everything; issuing tickets, buying, cargo, interpreting, there was no job description at the time. Kananginak had already been active in the co-op by the time I started in 1971. He told me stories about trying to make art much before the co-op happened, that he tried drawing on a cigarette package and on tin-can labels. He also told me about a research trip he took to Greenland before the co-op existed. He spent two or three months there learning about the Greenlandic artist co-operative membership system.
Kananginak was always visioning ahead. He was a very strong individual and he wanted to have a very good plan for Kinngait people to have economic success. It was mostly Inuit who worked at the studio with one or two visiting artists or studio managers from outside of the community at a time and that is still the case today.”
—Jimmy Manning, Former WBEC Buyer And Studio Manager (1971–2011)
This Portfolio was first published in the Fall 2021 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly