|The Inuit have lived for thousands of
years in one of the worlds most inhospitable climates. Their
survival as a people depended on their ability to master the elements
and adapt to their environment. One of their most remarkable traits
is the innate ability to fashion tools and objects out of the raw
materials found in the North such as stone, bone, and ivory.
Despite the fact that archaeological digs have yielded sculptures
dating back thousands of years, Inuit art as we know it today only
dates back to the turn of the century. The Inuit were until fairly
recently a nomadic people who followed the caribou herds about the
tundra in order to survive. As nomads they were seldom in one place
long enough to produce works of art on any great scale. However, in
recent years they have settled into permanent communities. Staying
in one place long enough to work on more ambitious projects and the
ability to sell their works of art has afforded the Inuit with a significant
source of revenue.
click on the map to enlarge
||Traditionally, the early
works of Inuit art were fashioned out of relatively soft materials
such as whalebone, caribou antler or ivory. In recent times, with
the availability of steel tools, stone has become the material of
choice in that the artist is no longer restricted by the smaller size
and shape of the antler or bone. The Canadian north (map of Canada's
north) is vast and very rich in minerals and the stone varies tremendously
from one community to the next. Despite the fact that most people
think Inuit sculptures are carved from soapstone, most are actually
carved in serpentine. There are also sculptures in basalt, marble,
quartz, pyroxine, etc. depending on the community of origin. Because
the type of stone used is a function of where the sculpture was made,
there is not one stone which is more valuable than another. In Cape
Dorset for example, the stone used is a beautiful dark green serpentine,
but the local artists occasionally use a white marble which is also
available locally. Relatively few artists use the local marble however
in that it is a much harder stone to carve and takes a greater toll
on their tools.
Subject matter also varies tremendously from one community to the
next, but Inuit art is primarily an art of observation, with animals,
hunting scenes, and people being the most recurring themes. There
are also very significant stylistic differences which can be observed
in the art of different regions. Styles tend to range from minimalism
at one end of the spectrum to very high realism at the other.
|Faces | Samuel Nahaulaituq
Taloyuak, ca, 1975
|The Inuit are also famous for their works
of graphic art. The first series of limited edition graphics was put
out by the artists of Cape Dorset in 1959. Other communities began
to follow soon after, and now the communities of Pangnirtung, Povurnituq,
Baker Lake and Holman Island are also well known for their prints.
Inuit prints are produced in a variety of media with the most common
being either lithographs or stonecuts. Stonecuts are quite unique
to the Inuit in that the standard lithographic stone is carved out
into a bas relief image of the design to be printed. Often the stonecuts
are augmented with stencils to apply subtle colours to the prints.
In fact it is not uncommon for two prints of the same image to be
subtly different in that this is still a very much a "hands on"
process as opposed to some of the mass produced graphics that are
Most Inuit prints are limited to edition sizes of fifty copies. Occasionally
there are images produced in editions of one hundred, but again, fifty
is the norm. Over the years there have been a number of prints with
edition sizes of less than fifty which were the result of technical
problems during the printing run. These prints are often quite valuable
due to their rarity.
Inuit graphics are still quite reasonably priced ranging from $300.00
- $800.00 Canadian. Several early prints are now selling for more
than $10,000.00, but many spectacular prints from the early 1960s
sell for under $1,000.00.
| Mother & Child | Unidentified Artist
Inukjuak, ca. 1953