NEWS: Nunavut July 31, 2017 - 10:00 am

Inuit fabrics find new home and exhibit at Toronto museum

“There’s a great deal of interest in these fabrics but not a whole lot of documentation”


The Textile Museum of Canada’s collection of Inuit pieces has just spiked from two to 177, thanks to the donation of 175 screen print pieces of Cape Dorset-made material. 

The boldly printed yardage, mostly cotton and linen created in the 1960s and 1970s, arrived at the museum earlier in the spring under a care agreement with Dorset Fine Arts, the marketing arm of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative.

But not before a sampling of the collection was exhibited at a swanky Toronto hotel in late January.

For now the pieces—printed with both modern and traditional Dorset iconography—have ended up in the museum deep freeze, as part of a preservation process.

The patterned pieces, which vary in shape and size, were found boxed in the basement of Dorset Fine Arts’s Toronto offices, while others were sent from storage at Kinngait Studios in Cape Dorset. This was after the southern studio realized their value, said William Huffman, the marketing manager at Dorset Fine Arts.

A much smaller collection of similar fabrics, appraised at around $15,000, sold for $8,500 at a private auction this year, he said.
Once the pieces have chilled out for a while, the museum’s curator will begin restoring the fabric, and hunt for the collection’s backstory, which is still largely unknown.

“Part of our dilemma now is that there’s a great deal of interest in these fabrics but not a whole lot of documentation around their development,” said Huffman, adding that they found a set of curtains made from the material.

Dorset Fine Arts is following up on one tip: licensing that was approved for a wrapping paper company in Oregon to use some prints found on the fabrics.

Huffman said whoever received or approved that license may know more about the artists. 

“We’re still trying to determine if some of these are complete pieces or if some of these are test pieces,” said Emma Quin, executive director of Toronto’s Textile Museum of Canada.

The museum boasts a global collection of 13,000 pieces from 200 countries, but “we are underrepresented in our Canadian collection,” Quin said.

The two Inuit pieces that were in the museum collection before include a woven sash from Pangnirtung and a wall hanging from Baker Lake, which were last shown in 2004 and 2005. 

Curators are working on an exhibit of the new textiles they hope to open to the public by 2019.

“They’re in fairly good condition. There are a lot of creases in the fabrics and those creases might not come out, so I wouldn’t say they are in pristine condition but they are in good condition,” said Quin.

“They just sat in the background for a bit so it’s really important that they come out so we can understand how they came into being.”