Toonoo was born in at camp on south Baffin Island in 1920. In the early 1940s he married Sheojuke Toonoo and started a family at Kangia, a traditional camp. Toonoo was a talented craftsman and made his own tools for hunting and fishing alongside his art, and his wife Sheojuke was also an artist who made drawings, prints, carvings and clothing.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Toonoo began making carvings and selling them to fur traders and James Houston, who was then setting up the arts and crafts program in Kinngait. Toonoo became a popular artist and his carvings were featured in many early exhibitions of art created in Kinngait including the important Eskimo Carvings: Coronation Exhibition at the Gimpel Fils Gallery in London, UK. Toonoo was one of the first Inuit artists to receive name recognition for his carvings, but as he did not sign his works many remain unidentified.

The work Mother and Child, c. 1960-1965 shows Toonoo’s sensitivity in capture his subject matter. The pensive mother looks forward while the child, in her amauti, peeks up and looks to the side. His Man Holding Animal, c. 1953 may allude to the RCMP sled dog slaughter1. In the mid-1950s RCMP officers killed several of Toonoo’s dogs, limiting his ability to hunt and provide for his family. 

Toonoo died in a hunting accident in 1969, but his influence on art is his community is greatly felt. His daughter Oviloo Tunnillie cites Toonoo as a major influence on her art, and made many carvings depicting him throughout her career. Toonoo’s work can be found in the National Gallery of Canada, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Artist Work

About Toonoo



Artistic Community:

Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU

Date of Birth:

Artists may have multiple birth years listed as a result of when and where they were born. For example, an artist born in the early twentieth century in a camp outside of a community centre may not know/have known their exact date of birth and identified different years.


Date of Death:

Artists may have multiple dates of death listed as a result of when and where they passed away. Similar to date of birth, an artist may have passed away outside of a community centre or in another community resulting in different dates being recorded.