Drawing from the past

Museum displays one-of-a-kind images by Cape Dorset artists.


Brian Lunger carefully slides a drawing by Cape Dorset artist Pitseolak Ashoona out of its protective plastic cover. Created in 1966, the scene shows a group of hunters descending on a large bird with orange feathers and tongue. Ashoona, the eldest of three generations of artists, created very recognizable work, with non-intricate images coloured in a primitive way.

“She was super-prolific, she would just draw and draw and draw. She really enjoyed drawing apparently — she also had a big family to feed,” Lunger, the museum’s curator and manager, explains. “They seem fairly simple and child-like, but she has a really good command of laying things out.”

The piece, one of about 50 by many of Cape Dorset’s best-known graphic artists, is part of an exhibition and sale titled Kinngait Drawings, opening March 29 at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit.

The co-op in Cape Dorset offers artists paper and drawing materials, and buys the work for possible use in the world-renowned annual print collection. Once a drawing is used as the inspiration for a print, the co-op retains it, but any of the one-of-a-kind extras, such as the 50 in Lunger’s possession, are up for grabs.

While in Toronto over Christmas, Lunger visited Dorset Fine Arts, a wholesale distributor for prints, drawings and sculpture from the community.

He spent two days poring through great flat drawers of drawings separated by tissue paper, amazed by the number and quality of artists represented.

“This is one by Pudlo Pudlat, he’s really famous,” Lunger says, sliding a new image onto the table in front of him. It shows a large dog in a canoe dwarfing two men as brightly coloured helicopters fly overhead.

“He liked to mix modern technology in with the traditional and he often did drawings of Cape Dorset with the power poles in them and the wires. He had a really vivid imagination,” he says. “I was just so surprised to see that these drawings were still available. He’s quite a famous artist and there aren’t many of his prints that you can still buy.”

The museum is offering these drawing for sale until April 20, Lunger says, with a percentage of the proceeds going to support projects and programming at the museum. A ticket draw at 2:30 p.m. on March 29 will give Iqalungmiut an equal chance to buy their favourite drawing.

Kenojuak Ashevak, one of the best-known Dorset artists, is also represented in the show.

“A lot of her drawings and prints, there’s a similarity to them,” Lunger says, as he reveals the multi-coloured images of intertwined creatures and people. “There’s a lot of birds, she loves birds. There’s a bird in almost every one of them.”

He pulls out a black-and-white Ashevak drawing from 2000-01. A creature at the bottom of the work has a human head and six animal heads radiating from it.

“I’m not sure if these are bears or wolves, but they’ve got the kakivak, sort of, for their mouths,” he says, gesturing to the eared creatures. The drawing is priced at $1,000. Some of the images are more affordable, starting at $100 for small ink drawings by Shuvinai Ashoona, Pitseolak’s granddaughter.

“Style is very personal,” Lunger says when asked about the differences in the images. “Each person I can recognize. Some are super-distinctive, like this woman, for instance, Sheojuk Etidlooie. She’s world-famous and has passed on now, but she does a very simple, basic, abstracted image.”

Lunger pulls out another Etidlooie image — a brown-legged design with a bluish head.

“This is one of her mysterious drawings, Lunger says. “I don’t know what it is, but sometimes you can tell. I was asking the people [at Dorset Fine Arts] what different things were and sometimes they are recognizable, but sometimes they are just mysteries. This one may be a walrus they were saying.”

Of the 50 drawings spanning almost 40 years, Lunger has managed to obtain a smattering of both abstract and realistic images — and, yes, he has a favourite. But he says he’s not going to buy it for his personal collection until the show ends — if it is still available.

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