The Art of Cape Dorset

by Solveig Gardner Servian

 

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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon

 

 

 


Cape Dorset is a small Inuit community situated at the southern tip of Baffin Island, to the north-east of Hudson Bay. It was here that artist James Houston and his wife Alma, in 1956, was sent by the Department of Northern Affairs to encourage the production of local art. Three years later the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative was formed, which in turn set up the now world-renown Kinngait Studios.

During the past 50 years or so, the prolific output of high-quality art earned Cape Dorset the reputation of ‘Capital of Inuit Art’. The sale of artwork was promoted through the Kinngait Studios’s annual catalogue. To commemorate this successful enterprise the book Cape Dorset Prints: A Retrospective, by Leslie Boyd Ryan (ISBN 978-0-7649-4191-7), was published by Pomegranate along with several supporting products.

In the book’s Foreword, Avrom Isaacs comments:

'For the Inuit, drawing was as old as hunting. They had been decorating their tools for centuries. The making of sleds, kayaks, and ‘igloos’ involved certain aesthetic decisions. Of necessity, Inuit are acute observers and have an intimate knowledge of the world around them. Everything had to be as perfect as possible, since mistakes in design could have fatal results in that harsh environment.

'

This is borne out by the stunning variety of stonecuts, linocuts, engravings, lithographs, etchings and original works on paper reproduced in the book, along with photographs illustrating the various techniques of art-making as well as charming images of the community right through to the present day. The text comprises 12 essays by collaborators of the project, each bringing their own perspective to the development and achievements of the Kinngait Studios and the skills of its many artists.

All aspects of northern life are represented: the birds, the animals, shamans, spirits, legends, Christianity, hunters, traditional camp life – and even the first tourist! Some are amusing, some alarming; there are traditional and modern representations; monochrome and highly coloured. Abstract, figurative, naïve - all styles are found here, each offering a unique impact to the observer. Aoudla Pudlat's whale is almost photographic, while Anirnik Ragee makes us of the Inuit syllabic alphabet to create intricate and colourful patterns.

The Kinngait Studios are active from autumn until late spring. The artists and staff take the summer off, many to return to their traditional camp areas. The Inuit treasure their language and stories, their connection to the land and its resources, even as they adopt modern ways. Through their work at the studios they can interpret their respect for their land and record their traditional ways before they are lost to memory.

Children are also able to appreciate and enjoy these wonderful prints through the delightful Inuit Art fromCape Dorset Coloring Book (ISBN 978-0-7649-5022-3). There are 22 pictures in all, each on a page of its own and blank on the reverse so that they can be detached from the book for framing and won't have the problem of colours showing through. The first page gives a short background to the art, and suggests that the colours may be either chosen independently or copied from the colour reproductions given on the inside front and back covers. Each image has the name of the artist, the title of the piece and the date it was created. This provides plenty of discussion with friends and especially adults who can teach something of the Inuit culture. Finally, encouragement is given to adapt the style of these pictures to a drawing of the child's own environment. A really useful learning tool in many respects!

There are several other related product too, such as those shown below.

 

 

Inuit Designs from Cape Dorset Gift Wrap (coloured panel above)
One 30 x 60" sheet (12 sq. ft.); reverse side includes printed grid lines for straight cutting.
ISBN 978-0-7649-4188-7

The images in this pattern are derived from fabric designs created in the 1960s and 1970s by Inuit artists living in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut.

Inuit Art Boxed Notecards (the four images above right)
(5 each of 4 different images, plus envelopes)
ISBN 978-0-7649-4670-7

Owls: Inuit Art from Cape Dorset Boxed Notecards (the four images above left)
(5 each of 4 different images, plus envelopes)
ISBN 978-0-7649-5444-3

 

These products are widely available, but in case of difficulty please contact Pomegranate direct: sales@pomeurope.co.uk

 

 

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