Inuk art dealer wins right to wield igloo stamp

Debate underway over what kinds of Inuit art should receive the iconic igloo tag

By COURTNEY EDGAR

Iqaluit’s Lori Idlout, the owner of Carvings Nunavut, signed a licence agreement earlier this month that allows her to apply the iconic igloo stamp to artwork, indicating it was hand-made by an Inuit artist. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE IAF)


Iqaluit’s Lori Idlout, the owner of Carvings Nunavut, signed a licence agreement earlier this month that allows her to apply the iconic igloo stamp to artwork, indicating it was hand-made by an Inuit artist. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE IAF)

Lori Idlout, the owner of Iqaluit art gallery Carvings Nunavut, has a new tool to help show her customers that the artwork she sells is the real deal.

It’s the iconic igloo tag—a stamp that has been used for the past 60 years to indicate that artwork is authentically hand-made by Inuit.

Idlout was the first new art dealer in 45 years to be granted a licence that allows her to use the stamp. And she is the first Inuk to be granted a licence.

The igloo tag program was created by the federal government in 1958 in order to protect against inauthentic, mass-produced replicas of Inuit art, mostly sculptures and carvings. Last year, the Inuit Art Foundation took over managing the igloo tag program and updated the stamp’s look.

Until then, the tag was only available through major distributors like co-ops, the Government of Nunavut and the Hudson’s Bay Company, said IAF’s executive director, Alysa Procida.

“It hasn’t really been terribly available in the North, but what we do know is that over the last 60 years, the trademark has become very, very valuable to the Inuit Art economy,” Procida said.

One study conducted by Indigenous and Northern Affairs last year found that Inuit art that carries the igloo tag is worth, on average, an additional $120. Overall, the study found that the trademark adds $3.5 million annually to the Inuit art economy.

“Every time you put this symbol on a work, people are willing to pay an extra $120 on average for that piece because they know where it came from, that it is a handmade work of art and that it is really by an Inuit artist,” Procida said.

There’s a debate underway over whether the tag should be applied to newer kinds of Inuit art. A day before the licence agreement signing, on July 7, the IAF held a community discussion on this subject in Iqaluit.

The igloo tag has traditionally been applied to carvings, sculptures and wall hangings.

For instance, Arviat’s Nooks Lindell, a clothing and jewelry designer, has not been able to apply the igloo tag to his work. It also remains a question whether art created with moulds and castings should be able to use this tag. Or whether it should be applied to music and movies.

Out of the 25 or so artists who attended the Iqaluit community discussion, only three raised their hand to say they their works already bear the tag.

There was no agreement on how the igloo tag should be used, although a few artists suggested creating two different tags—one that is for 100 per cent Inuit-made work and another that is mostly Inuit.

In response, Bryan Winters, IAF’s project coordinator, gave the example of the Maori in New Zealand, and how their art tags program attempted to include secondary variations, one for being mainly Maori and another simply Maori designed.

“It did not do terribly well. It confused the consumer. It watered down the logo. You had to essentially have a legend to understand what colour applied to what,” Winters said.

For now, he said it might be best to stay on top of the primary goal of revamping and expanding the old tag.

“We already have a lot of success with this. We have 60 years of history to build on and we already have collectors who can spot it from a mile away so we don’t want to split up the tag right away. Maybe down the line, that is a different conversation,” Winters said.

The discussions will continue over the summer in other communities and IAF encourages artists to get in touch with their feedback on these types of questions.
“If the questions were really easy, we would have just sent out an email,” Winters said.

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