A reason to celebrate

Pangnirtung printmakers look back on 30 years of art



The 2003 Pangnirtung Print Collection will be released June 20, and this year’s collection marks the 30th anniversary of printmaking in the community.

The print studio not only looks different than it did 30 years ago, what’s going on inside its doors has changed as well.

Back in 1973 when the printmakers made their debut, many of the works were stonecuts, a technique where standard lithographic stone is carved out into a relief image of the design to be printed. Today, most of the work produced by the studio’s core of eight to 10 printmakers is mainly stencil-based.

The stenciling itself has changed too. Peter Wilson, general manager of the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts & Crafts, says the technique has evolved over the years.

“They used to do it with kind of a leather stamp that they could pick up with four colours, just using four corners of it. Now we use individual brushes for each colour,” he says. “It was like a big blob of something soft wrapped in leather and they just ink that up.”

Wilson says the printmaking community has overcome many challenges in three decades. Residents saved the print shop from closure in the late 1980s by forming the Uqqurmiut Inuit Artists Association and buying assets from the old Pangnirtung Eskimo Co-operative.

Then in 1994, disaster struck again when the old print shop was ravaged by fire and a lithography press was lost. The printmakers moved shop to temporary facilities and still put out a collection that year. The association raised money under then-chair Rose Okpik and constructed the facility that exists today.

This year, the shop acquired a used lithography press for about $10,000 to replace the one lost in the fire.

“That’s going to reestablish something they used to do here before,” Wilson says. “The next step is to bring in a lithography expert to help us set up a studio properly and also to give training.”

For some of the printmakers, such as Andrew Qappik, a return to lithography will be a refresher course and perhaps, Wilson says, a way to connect with Cape Dorset, a world-renowned lithograph-producing community. There hasn’t been much sharing between the communities artistically over the years, he admits, but bringing a master printmaker in from that community may be a way for it to begin.

“Talking to some of the printmakers there, they seem quite excited about that too,” he says.

Wilson says the space in the print shop grew recently after some walls were removed and he hopes that space will be enough to house the new press and the area needed to keep the chemicals.

“We’ve tried to create a more sort of gallery-like setting so that visitors to the print shop will feel immediately comfortable and will immediately have prints to look at when they first come in the door,” he says.

The 2003 collection includes the work of nine printmakers based on the design of a number of Pangnirtung artists. Judith Leidl, a master printmaker and teacher from Wolfville, Nova Scotia, was invited to act as arts advisor for the collection.

“We talk about colour, we talk about technique,” Leidl explains. “If there’s a technical problem that we have, we work together to try and solve it and I might have access to information that is useful for them. There’s a workshop component to this as well.”

The collection will include stencils, relief prints — both lino and stonecuts — and etchings. Lithographs will hopefully make a return in 2004.

About 25 galleries will exhibit the collection in Canada, the United States and Switzerland.

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