The Cape Dorset printshop needs younger artists to carry on the artistic traditions born in the community nearly 50 years ago
Kavavaow Mannomee lifts his roller from a lime-green splotch on the counter and lets it glide over the intricate lines of a stonecut relief in the printshop of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op in Cape Dorset. The sunshine coming in through a window catches the paint to give the emerging image of an Arctic char added brilliance.
“Watch his hands,” says studio manager Jimmy Manning. “He has famous hands.”
Those hands have been reeling in a school of char lately, as Mannomee works in earnest on the prints. The completed images hang to dry over the workstation like a day’s catch waiting to be gutted and cleaned.
Mannomee’s worn hands bear the marks of years of experience. But for the 44-year-old co-op to evolve and grow, it must attract younger hands as well, Manning says.
“We’re used to mostly elderly people and we’ve been worried because we keep losing artists,” he says. “There are not enough young people keeping the tradition going.”
This past fall, the co-op opened its doors to the youth of Cape Dorset for an etching workshop taught by Paul Machnik of Montreal.
The results were positive, Manning says.
The workshop attracted 12 dedicated young people with fresh ideas. “The work was quite different from what we usually see. They tend to draw what they remember, what they’ve seen,” he says.
One piece, Kumwartok Ashoona’s “Angels Beckon,” was even chosen to be part of the renowned Cape Dorset Print Collection.
The haunting image depicts a pair of elders holding hands, thick lines marking the wrinkles in their faces. A younger-looking pair with broad, white wings hover above.
A few of the young artists, including Ashoona, seem to have printmaking in their blood, Manning says. They are the second- and third-generation artists the co-op needs to carry on the work.
“They have a heart for the art, an eye for the art, but they are not necessarily individual artists living by their art,” Machnik said in an interview this past fall in Iqaluit, after the 2002 collection was released.
“Nunavut doesn’t hold the same enchantment as it used to because [Southern art collectors] can get up here now. As a result, they dictate, ‘We want a print by Kenojuak [Ashevak]. Send me a box of those,’ he said.
“It edges out the fledgling artists that may have something to say.
This spring, the co-op will invite the same 12 young artists back for the second installment, this time a workshop on lithography taught by Bill Ritchie of Newfoundland, who works out of the co-op’s lithography studio.
The three-week workshop will teach the artists, many in their early 20s, skills that can help them live by their art — if they choose to.
“Many people don’t really know how to go about that,” Manning says.
“We’re looking for artistic ideas.”