What kind of stone do Inuit artists carve? This
question about Inuit art and materials is actually the most popular one among
people who visit an Inuit art gallery and see Inuit art. The type of stones
used for carvings in the Arctic varies since each area and regions usually have
different kind of stones.
Even if Inuit carvers do not use only stones as
materials for sculptures (ivory, caribou antler, or bones may be also carved),
the most common stone used by artists is serpentine. It is classified as a
group of related minerals in the hydrous magnesium iron silicate family. Serpentine
often incorporates inclusions, which give the stone its unique color variation,
from black, brown or grey to olive green or yellow.
Serpentine usually comes from Nunavut territory, and
especially from Kinngait (Cape Dorset in English) where most of the artists
live and carve. This community located on Baffin Island is well known as the most
famous Inuit art centre among circumpolar artistic scene and this area is
abundant in serpentine. But you may found serpentine in many others areas in
Steatite is known with the popular term “soapstone” as
this stone is pretty much softer than serpentine and easier to carve.
Steatite’s color is grey, blue-gray, and white to almost silver.
Like Nunavik in Northern Quebec is rich in steatite, most
of the artists carve from this material in this area although few of them use
serpentine, marble, caribou antlers, ivory or bones for examples.
Steatite is sometimes imported from other countries
such as Brazil, Italy and United States. In the 1950s, Canadian federal
government sent steatite up North to Inuit who lived in Panniqtuuq without any
explanation; people didn’t know what to do with this “too soft” stone and thus,
they put it in the water with other imported “strange items” from the Qallunaat
Argillite is a sedimentary rock formed predominantly
from a mixture of clay and other minerals. Its extremely fine grain is known to
take excellent detail in carving. The color of argillite is grey to black, but
many other colors are known.
Other types of Arctic stone used by Inuit carvers
include white or pink marble and quartz.
Inuit carvings look more polished and shiny to others,
according to the stone, the pieces, and the artists’ practices. It is actually
more difficult to get a polished and shiny piece with steatite compared to
serpentine or argillite.
For the color look, Inuit carvers use coloured or
clear shoe polish for the finishing touches whereas they used sea mammals’ oil
in the past. Sometimes, beeswax is heated onto Inuit sculptures as an
Carving stone among Inuit
[*To get more
information about Inuit communities and their art, please, see “Inuit art
Artists in Kinngait (Nunavut)
Qallunaat people generally use the English name “Cape
Dorset” to talk about the community instead of its Inuit name: Kinngait
which means in Inuktitut “mountains”. Kinngait Hamlet is well known on the international sphere as the most
famous centre of artistic creation in the Canadian Arctic. Kinngait was the first Canadian Arctic community to
produce drawings and prints; the
graphic arts programme has been launched in 1956.
Kinngait community is located on the south west coast of Baffin Island on the
Foxe Peninsula of Baffin in Nunavut territory (Canadian Arctic). 1236 persons
live there (Statistic Canada 2006) including about 95% of Inuit and 5% of
Baffin Eskimo Cooperative was founded in 1959 by Inuit own-selves to control
the artworks distribution outside the Inuit territory and redistribute locally
the profit of sales. Over the next five years, twenty
co-ops were established across the Canadian Artic, ranging from Cape Dorset in
the east to Holman Island in the west. Today, there are thirty-five which a small group leads even today
artistic production - like drawing, print or carving - has been successfully
developed in Kinngait, thanks to the Inuit artists’ will and enthusiasm as well
as to James and Alma Houston's presence from 1951 to 1962 and Terry Ryan, first
as an arts advisor in 1960 and then as manager of the West Baffin Eskimo
Co-Operative from 1962 – 2001. The Dorset Fine Arts
was established in Toronto in 1978 as the sale marketing division of the West
Baffin Eskimo Co-operative.
three generations of artists have produced sculpture, drawings and prints from
Kinngait. As of 2005 over a dozen artists from Cape Dorset have been made
members of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Abraham Etungat, Pitseolak
Ashoona, Pauta Saila, Kenojuak Ashevak, Osuitok Ipeelee, Kananginak Pootoogook,
Mayureak Ashoona, Kiawak Ashoona, Paulaussie Pootoogook, Toonoo Sharky,
Pitaloosie Saila, Aqjangajuk Shaa and Oviloo Tunnillie.
Today, the artistic creation and the sale of the works represent for
people who live in Kinngait a major source of incomes; but more still, artworks
act as supports of the elders’ memory and narratives for the future
Carving in Kangiqliniq (Nunavut)
such as George Arlook, John Tiktak, Hunter Toonoo, work with steatite and
serpentine (hard grey stone and black stone) as well as ivory and in ceramics;
they are widely admired for his sculptural representations of the human form
and face and organic shapes. Their artistic creations illustrate traditional
themes in innovative ways.
Carving in Kimmirut (Nunavut)
green soapstone and serpentine soapstone are often used by the Kimmirut
artists; there is a soapstone quarry located near Kimmirut. Some sculptors work
with ivory. They often produce scrimshaw etchings on the ivory. Some of them
carve also caribou antlers.
artists born in post camps near Kimmirut, such as Eliyah Michael, Iola Ikkidluak, Temela Aqpik, Shorty Killiktee, Davidee
Ittulu or Anu Arlooktoo carve with stone, ivory and caribou antler, thus
carving animal subjects (birds, bears, seals, whales), hunting scenes, drum
dancers and traditional Inuit myths. Their naturalistic style earned a strong
reputation on the international art market
Steatite carvings in Arviat (Nunavut)
production began in the early 1960’s, and artists soon earned a reputation for
their distinctive style as they use a rough, local stone called steatite
(popularly known as soapstone).Some artists who come from Arviat or who live there are well known on
the international art market as their artworks are kept by famous museums in
Canada like the Winnipeg art gallery, the Canadian Museum of Civilizations and
the National gallery of Canada.
steatite carving deals almost exclusively with family and maternal theme like
works made by John Attok (1906-1980), Andy Miki (1918-1983) and John Pangnark
(1920-1980). Details of anatomy and clothing are usually stripped away so that
some works seem to be almost abstract in form and could be described as
“minimalist”. Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok (1934-) focuses on the larger themes of
family and community in her carving works; she is now probably the most famous
artist from Arviat.
artists, such as Daniel Alareak (1964-), carve from caribou antler thus,
exploring variety of subjects, including shamanism andhunting. More recently, Daniel Alareak
has made jewellery since 1994, working with walrus tusk ivory, and is now
incorporating metal into some of his jewellery pieces.
in Iglulik (Nunavut)
Artists from Iglulik are famous for their carvings
in stone, caribou antler and walrus or caribou bone. As the stone is favoured
by carvers such as George Auksaq and Jame Ungalar, others like Lukie Airut,
Jake Kadluk and Marius Kayoutak create sculpture in stone, caribou antler or
walrus tusk. Yvonne Kayoutak carves from caribou antler and bone.
Favourite subjects represented by the artists from Igulik
are Arctic animals such as musk oxen, polar bears and marine mammals (beluga,
narwhal, and whale) as well as famous local myths.
Carving in Sanikiluaq (Nunavut)
“What we show
in our carvings is the life we have lived in the past right up to today”,
Sanikiluaq artists explain. As they favour a naturalistic style, animals and
birds are carefully executed and polished, with realistic details incised into
argillite stone found in the area – its extremely fine grain is known to take
excellent detail in carving and its color can vary from grey to black.
Argillite is used in most carvings made in Sanikkiluaq by carvers such as Paul
Kavik, Isaac Sala, Josie Ohaytook, Noah Ohaituq, Jimmy Iqaluk, Simon Iqaluk,
George Euikotailuk, Moses Amiaqoalik, or Joe Ekidlak.
Carving in Panniqtuuq (Nunavut)
Panniqtuuq is home to some
of the most accomplished Inuit carvers in the Arctic. Some of the carvers
specialize in serpentine or soapstone; other specializes in caribou antler and
Famous carvers such as Musisi
Qijuarjuq (elder carver), Lipa Pisiulak, Jaco Ishulutaq, Manasie Maniapik
(master carvers), Alan Alikatuktuk, Leopa Akpalialuk, Pilipusi Nakashuk
(mid-career carvers), Jimmy Kilabuk, Danny Itooangat, Peona Qijuarjuq,
Johnnylii Akpalialuk and Mosa Arnaqaq (young and emerging artists) exhibit
their artworks in museums and art galleries in the south.
Carving in Puvirnituq (Nunavik)
Towards the middle of the
XXth century, carving expanded quickly in the Canadian Arctic while
the artworks got larger stature, created from soapstone and serpentine, the raw
material used for the qulliq -the traditional seal oil lamp.
Today, carvers as Davidialuk
Alasua Amittu, Isah Papilakuk, Moses Aupaluktuk and Thomasie Sivuarapik for
example are well-known on the international art market and their artworks are
exhibited in the biggest museums.
The arctic animals like
seals, polar bears, caribous, as well as shamanism, daily life, environment and
hunting scenes are still today the very widespread subject linked to the
individual and collective experiences.
Carving in Kuujjuaq (Nunavik)
Kuujjuaq Co-operative was established in 1961 and began their membership with
the federation of Co-operatives of Northern Quebec (FCNQ) thus, opening a
general retail store. In Kuujjuaq, carvers commonly work with steatite (or soap
stone), caribou antler and ivory; their dominant iconographic subjects are of
Arctic fauna, daily life and traditional myths.
Carving in Kuujjuaraapik (Nunavik)
The art making such as carving and sewing started to
expand when the Hudson's Bay Company
opened a trading post called Great Whale River in 1820 on the site of today's Kuujjuaraapik.
The main activities at the post were processing whale products of the
commercial whale hunt and trading furs, but carvings were often exchanged for
By the late 1960s, carving making grew up and more
and more carving were sold down South through the Fédération des Coopératives
du Nouveau Québec (established in 1967 to provide the growing co-operative movement
with more effective powers and services to help attain their vision: atautsikut/together
- working to develop as a people, leaving none behind).
Certain artists became very famous on the
international art scene thanks their carvings, printmaking and drawings
depicting more often animals and myths into a strong style: not much detailed
composition but simple lines with the main characteristics of their topics.
Josie Napartuk (1901-1980) and his son Henry Ainalik
Napartuk (1932-1985), as well as Lucy Meeko (1929-2004) were renowned for their
carvings and print makings. Today, there is just a few number of artists in the
community such as Alec Lawson Tuckatuck (1976-) who carves from soapstone,
caribou antler, muskox horn, walrus tusks (he has his own website: http://www.inuitstonecarving.com/about_me.html). Lizzie Amiaku
Papialuk (1941-) and Emily Novalinga (1954-) make coiled grass baskets.
Carving in Inujjuaq (Nunavik)
carvers such as Juani Akuliak (1951-), Elisapi Inukpuk (1938-), Charlie Inukpuk
(1941-), Noah Arpatuq Echalook (1946-), Lucassie Qumaaluk Echalook (1942-) work
in Inujjuaq. Isa Paddy Aqiattusuk (1898-1954), Jimmy Inurali Arnamissak
(1946-2003), Johny Manumi Inukpuk (1911-2007), Paulusie Kasudluak (1928-2000)
were those who firststarted
carving in the community thus, giving to its art making a certain fame.
ever seen a dancing bear represented into carving, print or drawing by an Inuit
artist? Of course you did and it is not surprising because in Inuit art,
dancing bear is the most popular iconographic subject. We can see so many
artworks illustrating dancing bears on the international art market! But what
does it mean?
not only one explanation about the dancing bear through Inuit art and culture.
Actually, the most popular signification of this topic is linked to shamanism
and spirits world. According to the Inuit thought, the universe is inhabited by
human beings (humans, animals, vegetables), deceased’s and spirits (tuurnngait)
each who live in different but inter-penetrating worlds. Every human being is
provided with an anirniq “breathing, breath of life” which, when the
subject dies integrates a new animal or human body. The conception of the Inuit
world represents a continuum, where every element is a part of a whole.
shaman serves as intermediary between these various worlds and maintains the
balance. She/he can travel from a world to the other one, flying through the air
or water,thus entering
communication with the deceased’s or spirits’ world as she/he can change its
appearance and be human and animal at the same time… This is what we called the
shaman can be helped by protector auxiliary spirits - tuurnngait - to
realize this task; they get to the shaman strength and power. The polar bear
could be one of these tuurnngait and
while the shaman is calling him, she/he is playing drums and dancing. Most of
the times, when Inuit artists represent a dancing bear; this is precisely the
moment when the shaman and the bear are getting connected thus, their spirit
and their body merging together.
origin within contemporary art
historical perspective, the first dancing bear was carved by Pauta Saila, a
talented artist who lived and worked in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) in Nunavut. Born
in December 1917 and recently passed away (June 2009), he lived with his second
wife Pitaloosie Saila, a well-known graphic artist.
Saila produced a wonderful variety of subjects into carving, drawing and print.
He realized his first dancing bear carving in the middle of the 1950s. Quickly,
art collectors were captivated by this kind of topic and the demand on the
international art market grew up. Today, so many artists from every Inuit
communities carve or draw dancing bears as well as dancing caribous or belugas
such as Moe Pootoogook, Michael Samayuallie, Padlaya Qiatsuk, Johnny Papigatok,
Mattiusie Tunillie, Ottokie Ashoona, Kananginak Putuguq, etc.
Leo Angotingar lives in Naujaat (Repulse Bay in
English), in the Kivalliq area in Nunavut, an Inuit community of 548
inhabitants (2006 census, Statistic Canada). Leo's parents, Lionel and Olalie
Olartituk Angotingoar, and his sister, Elizabeth Uluta Angotingoar, are all
artists in the community, where he was born during the spring 1953.
In 1989, an international touring exhibition presented
by the Amway Corporation at the United Nations General Assembly, Masters of the Arctic: An Exhibition of
Contemporary Inuit Masterworks, included artworks made by Leo Angotinuar
and other well-known Inuit artists.
When Leo is not carving, he likes going out of the
settlement, for walrus, seals or caribous hunting with some friends. He also
enjoys music such as guitar played by Jimmy Hendrix and songs by Bob Marley and
Leonard Cohen. On his Bebo profile, he says that his happiest time is “when I
keep myself busy, and driving my machine on my trap line. Enjoying the great
white trundra and what is out there.” And he adds: “The only thing I like doing
right now is to have fun and enjoy whatever life have to give me.”
Leo’s answers as for the questions:
- When did you start carving and how
did you learn?
Leo: I don't
know. We had a dog team at the time and I was given the work to make sure all
the dog harnesses, had their ivory or angler loop holes and snaps were in shape
at all times, and Mom made sure what ever handles for the working tools to be
in shape. Most of all to have some toys made for my kid bros and sis.
- Do you remember the first carving
you made? What kind of topic did you depict?
trade? A small Nanook and made 25 cents. As for topic did I depict? Just only
ten years ago pick the drum dancer. Why? Drum beat was loud, over the years had
slowly drifted as all the Inuit stuff, but if you listen hard enough and look
to the past you will still hear the BEAT. The stories and beliefs are still
there but not as load. Sorry to say
His artistic style
Leo explains that his sources of
inspiration are mainly related to the old stories he heard from the past and
had experienced himself. His favourite topic consists in depicting human
figures linked to Inuit myths and cosmology but also to the daily life from the
past. In this perspective, he loves carving women carrying their baby in their amauti’s hood with tenderness and
Another current topic within Leo’s
artistic production is Sedna as she is called by Qallunaat (non-Inuit people),
even if her real name could be, depending the Arctic area: Uinigumasuittuq “the one who did not want to get married”; Takannaaluk “the Big there below”; or Tallilayuk. Anyway, she is considered as
the Sea Godness among Inuit societies. Following the Inuit cosmology, she is at
the origin of the living beings thus, being the most popular figure related to
Inuit culture (see: Laugrand, F. and Oosten, J. 2009, The Sea Women: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic,
Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press).
Most of his carvings are made out of
stone and whale bones; sometimes both materials are used thus, playing with
their colours. At first, the silhouette of human figures could seem to be
massive (maybe because of the general form and the texture of the material) but
looking at them closer, you would identify many details from furs, clothes and
hairs, as well as discreet smiles on faces. Through his carvings, Leo depicts
human figures on movement - moving actually means to be alive. These figures
often look up the sky, as if they want to keep connection with their ancestors
Mother and child within Inuit carvings
The representation of a mother and her child in sculpture is not a
frequent subject in the Inuit artcontrary to the
qallunaat art (not Inuit) where this topic appears in the religious as profane
representations. This theme remains relatively recent in the history of Inuit
art although it is more present in contemporary graphics art than in sculpture.
Formerly, the miniature representation of human characters (inunnguaq
it Inuktitut) only consisted of the making of shaman amulets and toys for the
children, in the form of small ivory or bone carvings and skins dolls. It is only from 1950s with the launch of the artistic
programs in the Arctic that raises the stone sculpture of humans.
Carved characters in stone are mostly hunter with or without game in
small size. This topic is particularly spread, especially since the artists are above all
hunters, formerly as today; their artistic creations are drawn from their own
Inuit women also involve in the artistic production: if formerly they
dedicated themselves more in drawing, in tapestry or in the clothing making,
women of the Arctic communities want to diversify their activities while
increasing their incomes and some of them started carving…. Thus, new
iconographic topics appear with more feminine subjects such as the maternity
and the mother to the child or feminine activities in camps.
Sat or up, the mother is represented almost always with her child in the
hood of her amauti (feminine jacket): only the head of the baby is then
visible. It is about an identical very strong symbol because the amauti
remains the feminine traditional garment par excellence, in a society where the
maternity is very valued.This mode of
representation is the most the common, even if sometimes, the mother carries
her child in the arms or holds him/her the hand if this one is bigger.
The mother and child topic is one of Mary Usutsiaq’s favourite subjects,
from Kinngait. Nevertheless, the artists who sculpture the theme of the
maternity are not exclusively women: Booby Aupaluqtuq, a young sculptor from
Inujjuaq, represents this theme among the others.