Puvirnituq studio revives Inuit art

The next step: A new cultural centre for the community


As Joshua Sivuarapik, manager of the Saputik museum collection in Puvirnituq, read the list of contributors at the opening of his community’s new carving and printmaking studio, he had every reason to feel happy.

“I know now that many young people will learn how to carve like in the past,” Sivuarapik said in a recent interview from Puvirnituq.

The new studio is the most recent development in Puvirnituq’s long involvement in Inuit art. In 1958, working closely with artist Charlie Sivuarapik, Father André Steinmann encouraged residents to form the Carvers Association of Povungnituk, also known as the Povungnituk Sculptors’ Society. This society later became the Co-operative Association of Povungnituk [now Puvirnituq].

From the 1960s to 1980s, Puvirniturmiut also excelled in printmaking. In 1961, renowned artists like Joe Talirunili and Davidialuk Amittu began experimenting with stonecut printmaking. The first prints from POV were released with the annual Cape Dorset print collection in 1962, but the print program was discontinued in 1989 due to financial problems, and the print shop closed.

Puvirnituq’s new studio, housed in building 115, has both state-of-the-art carving and printmaking equipment. The facilities, and the promise they hold, led one carver to say “at least one of our youth will have a better future.”

The studio also brings Puvirnituq a step closer to its dream: a multi-purpose community cultural centre and museum.

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Elder Nellie Nungak, who cut the ribbon at the studio’s opening, is one of the remaining founders of the community’s original Saputik museum. Just as a saputik, or fish weir, prevents fish from escaping, Puvirniturmiut built the Saputik museum to stop their culture from disappearing. The museum, which opened in 1978, was housed in an igloo-shaped building, which stood in front of the co-op store.

The original Saputik museum closed in 1994, and has since been torn down, but the collection remained in Puvirnituq. Four years ago, Avataq hired Sivuarapik to learn more about the care and display of the collection, which is now open to the public in House 215.

During consultations on what the future cultural centre should look like, many suggested incorporating a workshop for carving. A decision was later made to add a print shop.

As it turned out, the carving and printmaking studio was able to go ahead this year, thanks to $70,000 from Heritage Canada, and assistance from Makivik Corporation and Avataq. The Northern Village of Puvirnituq donated the building, one of the earlier houses built in the community, and carried out the necessary renovations. The Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Quebec is covering the studio’s heating bills for the first year.

“I’ve never seen a project go so well,” said Louis Gagnon, a curator with Avataq who worked on the studio project.

Gagnon also started pinpointing artists in the South who would be willing to be involved as resource contacts for the new print shop.

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“In the next stage, we would like to have artists go South and take intensive courses with printers,” Gagnon said.

At the same time, the project to build a larger cultural centre in Puvirnituq is moving ahead, and Gagnon said it has “top priority” at the federal and provincial level.

“If everything goes well with the workshop, we’re almost certain it will go through within two or three years,” Gagnon said.
Meanwhile, Sivuarapik regularly welcomes visitors and school groups to the Saputik collection, which is open daily. There, among other displays, Sivuarapik shows off a more recent artifact: a kayak made by elders and youth last summer.

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