This 2009 edition of the Cape Dorset calendar celebrates fifty years of printmaking at the Kinngait Studios. That is a milestone that few community arts associations attain. It is even more remarkable in light of the fact that this community — Cape Dorset — is an Inuit hamlet on south Baffin Island an an unlikely candidate for the distinction of being home to Canada’s longest running professional printmaking studio.
Fifty years ago, in 1959, the only buildings of any significance in the settlement were the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post and the craft shop, or “sanaunguabik” as it was first called — a place to make small things. The first experiments in printmaking had led to a successful public show and sale in 1958, paving the way for the first catalogued collection in 1959.
As Inuit began relocating to the settlement they found a new source of income and a new way of communicating — with pencil on paper. For many, these new tools liberated their imaginations and their stories, legends, exploits, land and animals came alive on the paper and the prints developed from their original drawings. The outpouring was nothing short of phenomenal.
The studios have sustained three generations of Inuit graphic artists. They have come from the “old Eskimo ways” of Pitseolak Ashoona to the ATM machines of her granddaughter, Annie Pootoogook. In between, there is an extraordinary group of celebrated artists and it has been my pleasure and challenge to choose 12 signature images for this calendar.
The studios continue to face their challenges, most notably a shrinking stable of artists in the face of myriad distractions offered by the modern community. But there is a core group of talented individuals who are redefining Inuit graphic art and reaching a more contemporary audience in the south. They are the voices of the new north and the Kinngait Studios will be there to support them. The fact that the studios are still active and thriving after fifty years is assurance of that.
Features images by Niviaksiak, Pitaloosie Saila, Parr, Pitseolak Ashoona, Pudlo Pudlat, Napachie Pootoogook, Kananginak Pootoogook, Ningeokuluk Teevee, Lucy Qinnuayuak, Osoochiak Pudlat, Arnaqu Ashevak, and Kenojuak Ashevak.
Cape Dorset, also known as Kinngait (pronounced “King-ite”) for its high, rolling hills, is a thriving Inuit community on the southwest coast of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut. The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative was formed and incorporated there in 1959. The Kinngait Studios, which house the co-operative’s graphic arts program, are the longest continually running print studios in Canada. The studios are internationally renowned for excellence and innovation in Inuit graphic art.
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