Nick Sikkuark’s life has been one of change and diversity. He was born on May 21, 1943 at Garry Lake on the Black River system in the Keewatin. Orphaned early in life, he was “adopted” by the Oblate Fathers in Gjoa Haven at the age of twelve. In 1961 he was sent to a church school in Winnipeg and moved to Ottawa in 1963 to study for the ministry. After two years in Ottawa he reached a decision not to pursue a career with the church and returned to the North in 1965. During the next two years he travelled to Rankin Inlet, Repulse Bay, Gjoa Haven and Cambridge Bay, working as a carpenter and serving as a Roman Catholic catechist.
Sikkuark’s carving career began in 1967 when he was in Gjoa Haven and it continued in Pelly Bay where he moved the following year. He learned the technique of oil painting while in Pelly Bay and this has also been a continuing interest for him.
After a move to Whale Cove in 1971, his creative focus shifted to graphics. This culminated in 1973 with the publication of 86 felt pen drawings in five books produced by the Education Department of the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT). A short text for each illustration was also written by Sikkuark. The drawings are richly varied in both style and content, while the texts are philosophical and, at times, poetic. Dual threads of humour and pain are interwoven to reveal a view of life that is not romantic. Man is weak and ultimately insignificant, although not powerless: “We could do things if we really tried.” (More stories, p. 8). One of the books, Faces, is a series of heads that reveals the artist’s talent for caricature and irony.
In 1974 Sikkuark returned to Pelly Bay and to carving and was there when he received the 1974 commission from the Commonwealth Games Foundation. He moved to Cambridge Bay in 1977 and began making surgical pins of ivory for a Regina hospital, work which curtailed his carving for some time.
By 1981 his sculpture had taken an exciting new direction that was a continuation of ideas developed in the drawings of 1972. Sikkuark’s principle medium became caribou antler. Bits of other materials such as whalebone, ivory, skin, fur, sinew and even metal were used for the many surprising little details that characterize these works. He began to put into three-dimensional form his caricatures, as in Faces, and his imaginary scenes, as in Nick Sikkuark’s Book of Things You Will Never See.
Sikkuark still makes his exquisite ivory animals that he fondly calls his “old timers”. With such a fertile imagination, one can only wonder what will next emerge from the hands of Nick Sikkuark.
excerpted from Darlene Wight, Community Profiles: The Central Arctic, Inuit Art and Crafts, December 1984, pp 30-33
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