A guard of stone
Iqaluit artisans use same technique employed in England’s ancient stone circles
The inuksuk now standing at the main entrance of the legislative assembly building in downtown Iqaluit was built the same way as ancient stone circles in England.
“We did this the same way they built Stonehenge,” Mathew Nuqingaq explains, as a front-end loader prepares to hoist another slab of granite onto the sculpture.
Nuqingaq, and Ruben Komangapik, both sculptors, were commissioned by the legislative assembly to create this inuksuk as part of a plan to spruce up the building’s grounds.
Public affairs officer Tony Rose explains there have been landscaping projects at the site for the past four years. The inuksuk is probably the last major undertaking.
He says the idea of erecting it outside the legislature has been around for a while, and workers got as far as pouring the concrete just under the window of the speaker’s office last year before it got too cold to complete the project.
The weather this year hasn’t been much better.
“It’s been a true Nunavut project,” Rose says. “These guys have worked in the rain, the sun and even snow.”
Komangapik says that each time they added a piece to the sculpture it was raining. Today, with the last three pieces left to be attached, it’s not yet raining, but the wind is blowing and it’s cold.
It’s taken them about two weeks to finish the project, which began with choosing the stones. Nuqingaq, who has created large decorative inuksuk sculptures around the world, says he’s had his eye on these particular pieces of rock for some time.
“I had seen them right off the road on the Road To Nowhere,” he says. “They were relatively flat.” Once chosen, a crane was used to load the stones and then deposit them at the legislature site. The headstone was taken from near the scrap metal dump.
Mostly granite, the large rock slabs aren’t just perched on each other. Nuqingaq shows how pieces were sliced off with a diamond blade to make certain edges of the stones flatter, and grooves were added with a drill bit and angle ngrinders. He says rebar (pieces of ridged steel used to reinforce concrete) wasn’t used because it could bend.
As the loader lifts one of the last slabs in place, the purpose of the grooves becomes clear. Nuqingaq, standing on the sculpture, straddles one of the rocks and packs a groove full of concrete before adding bits of chopped rock to it. This mound fits perfectly into the groove on the underside of the rock being lowered onto it.
Or that’s the theory. Komangapik notices this one is being lowered upside down and they all chuckle as the loader has to reposition it.
The stones are not small and they are not light. While no exact measurements are known, the finished sculpture stands a little over nine feet and weighs thousands of kilograms.
Komangapik explains that the inuksuk traditionally has a hole to look through, directing the viewer to something, and the arms can also act as guides.
“With this one,” he says, crouching slightly to peer through the hole, “it’s directing you to the legislature and the arms are pointing toward where there is fish and where there is caribou.”
As the wind continues to blow and the flags (a landscaping project from four years ago) flap unceasingly, the two sculptors prepare for the headstone to be placed.
“It’s granite, with mostly quartz and garnet,” Nuqingaq says, spraying a hose on the headstone to show its different components.
Moments later, Nuqingaq has again climbed to the top of the sculpture joined by Komangapik. The loader lifts the headstone close to its final position and the two men maneuver it into place.
Komangapik hops down and steps back to admire his handiwork.
He says it makes him happy to think that people will walk by and admire the work done by he and Nuqingaq.
“My grandchildren will see it,” he says, “it’s something for them to remember me by.”
Rose says he is working on establishing a program for people from other communities to come and place stones from their area into the small gaps in the inuksuk. After all, the legislature is a place for all Nunavummiut.
Nuqingaq has taken the hose and is spraying water all over the sculpture, clearing the concrete debris and showing how the rocks will look without sand and dirt on them.
“I hope it will help people find their way,” he says of the completed inuksuk. “Well, into the legislature at least.”