Sanikiluaq artists benefit from partnership with Pangnirtung fish plant workers
The sale of Sanikiluaq’s famous fish skin dolls is expanding after a pilot project with the department of sustainable development led to an increase in the number of dolls the community can produce.
In February, Nujuqsivik artisans in Sanikiluaq received nine kilograms of turbot skins from Pangnirtung. The community produces about a dozen dolls a year. The limited production stems from resident’s regard for fish skin is a food source, not an art supply.
But this month, five doll-makers produced 30 dolls using the Pangnirtung fish skins, most of which have already sold.
DSD allocated $4,000 from its Fisheries Development and Diversification Fund to purchase and transport the frozen membranes to Sanikiluaq.
This month, Nujuqsivik ordered an additional 90 kilograms of skins from Pangnirtung.
The plush figurines have long been a trademark of the Belcher Island community. The dolls sell for between $150 and $450 – depending on their size and whether the dolls are framed.
More skins means more dolls can be produced, said John Jamieson, a Nujuqsivik board member.
The dolls are sold at the Sanikiluaq Co-op and through word of mouth. However, the market will likely grow with Jamieson’s on-going discussions with galleries in Montreal, Ottawa and Winnipeg.
“We’re getting better at production so we can lower the price. We’re going to be busy this summer,” Jamieson said.
The idea of using skins from Pangnirtung came after Wayne Lynch, a sector specialist for DSD, was in Sanikiluaq. Jamieson mentioned the skin shortage, Lynch called up Pangnirtung’s fish plant, and the rest is history.
The skins are flown to Sanikiluaq in a frozen state. They are thawed, dried, cut and sewn into dolls. A core of five women carefully stitch and decorate the figures. Doll-makers have started using polar bear fur and goose feathers to trim the works of art.
Linking the two communities made sense, said Carey Bonnell, fisheries manger for DSD.
“It promotes the full utilization of a fisheries product. A skin that is normally not used, is being used,” he said.