Turning dolls into dollars
Experts craft a livelihood from lifelike creations
KUUJJUAQ — You feel as if you’re looking at a real person when you stare into the eyes of the hunter that Annie Jonas created recently.
Dressed in a sealskin atigi and kamiks, with a harpoon and rope in his hands and a sack on his back, the hunter, actually a doll, looks as if he’s ready to head off on the land.
The doll, with its expressive soapstone head, crafted by one of Annie’s sons, who are both carvers, is surprisingly lifelike.
The same can be said for the other dolls perched on the table, which include a woman sewing kamiks, and a flock of tiny sealskin ookpiks.
Annie, now in her 60s, has been making dolls and ookpiks for more than 30 years.
The late Jeannie Snowball taught Annie how to make sealskin ookpiks.
Snowball created the first fuzzy sealskin owls, and when the ookpik was chosen to represent Canada at a 1964 Philadelphia trade show, sewers in Kuujjuaq began mass-producing ookpiks.
Annie started making dolls in the 1970s, although she recalls seeing them as a child.
Over the years, Annie has accumulated a cookie tin filled with all the miniature patterns for ookpiks and for the clothing she painstakingly sews for her dolls.
That’s where Annie starts a doll: with the clothing, which is accurate down to the tiniest detail.
For some dolls, she also makes a woven bottom, a craft she taught herself by simply looking at handmade baskets.
“I observed them,” she says. “And then I was able to make them.”
And she’s still learning new techniques to use in her dollmaking.
From Inukjuak’s master dollmaker Elisapie Inukpuk, Annie picked up the idea of putting carved heads, instead of sewn ones, on her dolls. Elisapie also showed Jonas how to support the legs of larger dolls with popsicle sticks, a huge improvement over using stuffing, says Annie.
Last month, Annie, along with Elisapie, passed on dollmaking techniques at Nunavik’s annual art workshops, where Nunavimmiut can spend two weeks learning new skills and more about how to make money with their talents.
Makivik Corporation, the Canadian Heritage National Arts Training Contribution Program and the Kativik Regional Government’s Employment and Training Department collaborate on these yearly workshops.
During October’s Inuit doll and ookpik making workshop, 11 participants from Kuujjuaq, Tasiujaq, Quaqtaq, Kangiqsujuaq and Puvirnituq learned how to make Inuit dolls, ookpiks and other northern animals as well as smaller souvenir items such as kamiit and pualuit.
A sale was held at the end of the course, but many kept their dolls because they were proud of their handiwork.
Annie says she hasn’t taught her own family members how to make dolls or ookpiks, but they’re interested and watch her sewing them all the time, she says. Sons Joe and Jimmy now make the heads of some dolls.
Usually, Annie’s dolls sold as soon as she makes them to private customers in Kuujjuaq or to Tivi Galleries in town.
As she shows off some of her dolls and ookpiks, loaned for this occasion by their owners, Annie says she never tires of sewing: “when you’ve been doing it for years, it’s easy.”