Kenojuak Ashevak was born October 3, 1927. Her early years were spent living a traditional hunting lifestyle on the land at Ikirasaq on the southern coast of Baffin Island, residing in igloos and skin tents.
As a young woman she married Johnniebo Ashevak in the 1950s, while living at Keakto. They were later encouraged by James Houston, the Canadian federal government’s administrator for the region, to experiment in producing sculpture and drawings to supplement their livelihood. In 1962, Terry Ryan took over the arts-advisor role and continued to advise and support Kenojuak and Johnniebo, introducing them to new techniques and mediums, like the copper-etching process. In 1966 they moved off the land into the Cape Dorset community to provide schooling opportunities for their children and continued to work closely together as artists until Johnniebo’s untimely demise in 1972.
Kenojuak is possibly the most renowned Inuit artist ever — and today is regarded as a great Canadian national treasure. From her humble beginnings she emerged to become regarded as one of the most notable pioneers of modern Inuit art. She received every conceivable award and honour that any Canadian could acquire in the arts. Her imagery has been displayed on Canadian stamps and coins, her life portrayed in books and films, and her art sought all over the world by collectors, corporations and museums. Over the years, she received commissions to produce images for institutions, charities, cultural events and celebrations, as well as becoming the first Inuit to design a stained-glass window for a chapel in Ontario. Her 1960 print Enchanted Owl has become an iconic image in Canadian art and her 1959 print Rabbit Eating Seaweed is one of the rarest images in Inuit art.
Since the very first showing of Inuit graphics in 1959, she contributed to every Cape Dorset annual print release since. She was a stalwart of the West Baffin Co-operative print shop and also a carver who created many wonderful sculptures (until 2001, when it became simply too physically demanding for her).
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