Team of sculptors produce Iqaluit’s first monuments

At 230 p.m. on September 25, the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association was to have presented “Our Life in Stone” a set of sculpted works produced during Nunavut’s first sculpting symposium.


IQALUIT — Inspired artists have transformed rough hunks of granite into the Nunavut capital’s first true monuments.

From July to mid-September, artists from all over Canada came to Iqaluit where they participated in a symposium called “Our Life in Stone.” They spent three weeks crafting their unique homage in stone to Nunavut, the new millennium, and the human spirit.

“They shared on a personal level,” said symposium coordinator Gerri Mulley of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association. “They shared on an artistic level, and on an emotional level, and from these tears and hugs, the joys and sorrow, came something very successful.”

On Sept 25 at 230 p.m. in Iqaluit, the arts and crafts association was to have presented the sculptures at a celebration ceremony.

The Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association’s two-year, $450,000 project has received support from the Canada Council for the Arts and numerous corporate sponsors.

“I feel good about this”

Inuk Charlie, a carver from Cambridge Bay, was in the last of three groups who participated in the symposium. On the afternoon of his departure, Charlie was still putting the finishing touches onto an elegant carving of a bird.

“I feel good about this,” Charlie said. “I like the rough finish on it.”

Charlie’s giant-sized carving, called ‘Set free,’ holds a special meaning for the artist.

“I started carving when I was a child,” Charlie said. “I never had toys — all the Hudson Bay had was ‘Buffalo Bill’ pistols! I’ve always carved, but in my adult years I needed to start carving for a living.”

Until then, Charlie had only produced miniature carvings, so, he went to visit his father for advice.

“It’s the only time that he gave me constructive criticism without losing his cool. He didn’t know how to let his feelings out,” Charlie said. “And the kind of carving he wanted me to do is totally different from what I’m doing today. So, in a sense, I’ve had to set myself free, and do what makes me feel good. In the end, he was very comfortable with that, and he respected me before he died.”

Like to Charlie, each sculptor infused a part of his or her own life into the pieces of stone they’ve been working on.

Some, like Maarten Schaddelee, a carver from Victoria, British Columbia, arrived in Iqaluit with an idea of what they planned to do with the unshaped stone.

“It was instant. I knew what I wanted to so,” said Schaddelee of his work called “Rebirth.”

“I wanted to do an orca whale leaping out of a Calla lily, for a multitude of reasons. The Calla lily represents death and rebirth — and it was the death of the Northwest Territories and the rebirth of Nunavut. The orca is symbolic of the grandmothers because in the orca pods or groups the grandmother is the boss. If a whale steps out of the pod, this is the one who goes and gets that particular whale and rules the roost.”

Honouring the grandmothers

Schaddelee said he felt that the role of men in the North is more appreciated than the that of women.

“I felt that the grandmothers needed a piece, so this piece honours Nunvaut and its grandmothers,” Schaddelee said.

Schaddelee also decided he would craft a stone bench from which his sculpture can be viewed.

“I thought, when this piece is finished, I want the grandmothers to have a place to sit,” he said. “I found a boulder in the back yard and I thought I’ll just smooth off the top for them to sit on.”

The end result is a naturally elegant natural stone seat that features a carved cushion.

“I created a soft pillow for them to sit on,” he said. “I felt that they deserved a throne.”

Each sculptor who participated in the symposium produced a very different style of work. There’s a stylized sun, an astonishingly life-like polar bear and a sleeping dog and the abstract figure of a woman.

Out of Randy Sibbeston’s huge, carved stone walks a couple.

“What I was trying to portray, to catch, is a glimpse, a moment of their lives, walking together,” said Sibbeston, who comes from Fort Simpson, NWT.

“It seems like so many families don’t really have a chance to stay together for very long anymore. I think that the family is kind of suffering. It seems like everyone is single now. They get together to have kids, and then they go on their separate ways.”

As the stone carvers worked in the centre of Iqaluit, next to Nunavut Arctic College’s fine arts studio, passersby stopped to marvel at the growing sculpture garden. These works of art will stay in Iqaluit, but soon they will go to their new homes around the community.

The arts and crafts association plans to invite local businesses, companies or individuals to “rent” a carving.

Money raised by this “rent” will help finance the symposium’s second year, when artists will come together again to create more works of art for Iqaluit and other Nunavut communities.

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