Inuit artist Pitaloosie Saila dead at 79

Saila was known for her stonecut printing

Pitaloosie Saila signs her 2015 print called Arctic Vixen in Kinngait Studios. (Photo courtesy of Pat Feheley)

By David Venn
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Kinngait artist Pitaloosie Saila, known for her stonecut prints, has died at 79 years old.

Her art is on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum of History, also in Ottawa. She was elected to become a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2002 and her art has been featured on a Canada Post stamp.

Saila died on July 24.

Born in 1942 at an outpost called Keatuk, Saila lived most of her life in Kinngait. When she was young, she spent a few years at southern hospitals recovering from health problems.

Saila began producing art in the early 1960s, said former Kinngait Studios manager Jimmy Manning. He spent most of his nearly 30 years at the studio working with her.

Saila worked with a type of lithography called stonecut, where an artist chips away at a stone to create an image, then applies ink to the stone to create a number of relief prints.

“Every year we were selecting from her original drawings that were transferable to stonecut or lithography,” said Manning.

Much of Saila’s art was influenced by her time in the south.

An example, Manning said, is a drawing from the early 1980s of a shape of a human that reminds him of a totem pole.

“I guess that’s how she saw herself,” he said. “Her ideas were different from other artists at that time.”

Over the years, Saila travelled throughout Canada and to a few states in the US, attending art exhibitions and conferences.

Manning said as Saila got older, she stayed active in the art community, running workshops and meeting with visiting artists. After her husband, sculptor Pauta Saila, died in 2009, she continued to produce art to support her grandchildren.

One of Saila’s more well-known pieces is of three veiled women picking her up as a child. Feheley Fine Arts owner Pat Feheley interprets the image as a symbol of the people who took Saila away to southern hospitals.

“She was never influenced by what the market might want,” she said. “She was really individual.”

Feheley is a longtime friend and colleague of Saila’s. They met in the mid-seventies in Cape Dorset.

“She’s so talented and she was just a lovely, lovely lady,” she said.

Besides her distinct style, Feheley said Saila was ahead of her time working with stonecut art.

Instead of working from a drawing to produce an image in stone, Saila often had her hand on the stone itself, Feheley said.

“She had an extraordinary understanding of the possibilities of lithography,” she said. “I just this morning saw the prints by her that are coming out this year … and they are truly fabulous.”

They were friends outside of the art industry as well, seeing each other a few times a year. Sometimes they would compare their knee operations and have a laugh, said Feheley.

The last time they saw each other was November 2019 at one of Saila’s grandchildren’s birthday parties.

Both Feheley and Manning said she was a strong woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind.

Manning said Saila wanted to be buried in Keatuk, the outpost near Kinngait where she was born.

“I think it was very special for her,” he said. “It was more like a home to her.”

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by Paul Machnik on

    A small correction, in the article it mentions,, “lithography called stonecut” In actual fact, stonecut is related more to wood block printing rather than lithography. The surface of the stone or wood is carved away leaving the image which is then inked to produce an image.

    Here’s a link that explains the process;

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