Colours of the imagination

The artists at the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio weave a legacy into a giant piece destined for the Legislative Assembly



One wall in the Pangnirtung Tapestry Studio is covered with what looks like a huge pastel-coloured puzzle made with pieces the size of letter paper.

The image shows a soft-edged inuksuk in the foreground and hunters and caribou on the horizon. Birds fly overhead through a purple-and-pink-toned sky.

The original image was created by well-known Pangnirtung artist Joel Maniapik and is being woven into a 10-foot by 22-foot tapestry for Nunavut’s Legislative Assembly — a gift from the Uqqurmiut Arts & Crafts Centre in Pangnirtung.

Maniapik, who now works at Arctic College in Iqaluit, says he is proud his work was chosen, not just for himself but also for the skilled weavers who will be depicting it in fabric.

He paints off and on, and says he’s hoping the selection of his work may help further his career as an artist.

“My love is really in art,” he says.

Four women sit quietly at the loom in the round room of the tapestry studio. Their fingers move and the wool flies. One woman stands apart from the group surrounded by skeins of wool. She is organizing the colours that are going to be needed as the tapestry grows, she explains.

Peter Wilson, general manager of the Uqqurmiut Centre, says the piece will hang in the Great Hall of the Legislative Assembly building in Iqaluit.

Eight weavers are being paid an hourly wage through a department of education training-on-the-job program, a first for the centre, and completion of the tapestry is about two months ahead of schedule. The project, which began in earnest in January, may be completed by the end of June.

It’s taken about two years to pull all the funding and artists together. The Nunavut Development Corporation, Nunavut Department of Community Economic Development, Indian and Northern Development Canada and Kakivak Association all contributed to the project.

Arts advisor Deborah Hickman came to Pangnirtung in January from Nova Scotia and stayed for three months helping the weavers plan the project.

“It’s a matter of the arts advisor and the weavers meeting once the image is selected. They discuss problems they might encounter with the image and make decisions on how to proceed with that,” Wilson says. For example, how does one translate a watercolour painting into fabric, particularly when watercolour paints tend to blend together?

“Then they need to work from what they call a cartoon,” he says. Most of the tapestries done at the centre are on a smaller scale and the cartoon, the outline image weavers work from, is drawn by hand. The original drawing needs to be enlarged in some fashion and the weavers usually do that by projecting the image with an overhead projector onto a wall and then re-drawing the image to size by hand.

“In this case because it’s 10-feet by 22-feet, we for the first time decided to use the technology available to us,” Wilson says. “We took Joel’s drawing and scanned it with a high-resolution scanner we have here and we printed it out in increments that were enlarged 1,200 per cent, and just printed it onto legal-sized paper. Then it was a matter of piecing it all together.”

Wilson says it has made it much easier for the weavers to see what they’re working on more clearly without having to draw a massive image by hand.

Once the scans are pieced together, the project manager works with other weavers and the arts advisor to mark areas designating which colour of wool will be used. The colour is also given a number so the weavers can mark the cartoon to tell them whether it’s going to be a clear cut of colour, or whether it’s going to be a blend of colours.

“Then they will set up a portion of that cartoon in behind the loom,” he says. “They’ll put it right up against the warp, which is the long vertical strings. They’ll mark onto it with a black marking pen so that all those areas they marked off are now on the warp. Then they pin the cartoon in behind the loom so they can actually look at it and refer to it as necessary.”

As the wool fills the space between the strings, and the tapestry starts to grow, it’s rolled around a pole at the bottom of the loom, out of the way.

The target date for the tapestry to be completed is Aug. 31, and the installation in the Legislative Assembly should coincide with the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in early October.

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