Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How many artists live in Nunavut?

A. It’s estimated that there are 3,000 artists among Nunavut’s population of just 28,000 people. Most of
the artists are stone carvers. Many of them are subsistence hunters who carve in order to earn money for
the fuel, bullets and equipment needed to hunt for their families.

Q. Is the arts and crafts industry a major player in Nunavut's economy?

A. Yes. It's hard to accurately gauge its full impact, however, as a number of artists sell directly to the
public.

Q. How many art schools are there in Nunavut?

A. None. However, the Nunavut Arctic College, the territory's only college, offers a Fine Arts Program,
with everything from short courses in basketmaking to three-year programs in jewelry. Contact the
college if you would like a particular program presented in your community. NACA also looks to organize and provide training and support for people looking to share their skills with other interested artists.

Q. How did so many people in Nunavut learn to be artists if they didn't go to art school?

A. Knowledge is passed down through the generations by Inuit elders.

Being hunters also helps Inuit to be good artists. Inuit have a very close relationship with the land and
its wildlife. Until they were settled into permanent communities by the federal government in the
1950s, Inuit lived as nomadic hunters on the land. The keen observation skills of the hunter and his
intimate familiarity with the land help the artist recreate animals and the environment in his artwork.
The traditional Inuit oral culture in which stories were passed down through the ages has fostered vivid
imaginations, and this manifests itself dramatically in Nunavut artwork as well.

Q. What are the stone statues that frequently appear in Inuit art?

A. They are inuksuit, rock cairns often shaped in the form of a human. These landmarks have long dotted
the Arctic landscape. Sometimes they were created as markers to show where hunters had traveled on
the treeless tundra. In other instances, they hold spiritual significance.


Painting

Not a great deal is known about painting in Nunavut's pre-historic period, though a number of Europeans and southerners of the 19th and early 20th centuries collected drawings made by Inuit.

Painting was a natural development of traditional visualization and hand-eye skills, as well as the introduction of printmaking in the 1960s. Even today, most Inuit prints begin with a paper drawing that is then transferred to the printmaking medium, so the choice to make the paper image the final product seems a natural one.

While painting, along with ceramics, is arguably the least developed of Nunavut's fine arts and crafts, it also holds great promise.

Jewellery

Inuit have created small, purely decorative adornments in ivory and bone for centuries. Women wore hairsticks - pieces of caribou bone around which they wound their hair - as well as copper or leather headbands decorated with animal teeth. Amulets were also worn to ward off evil and bring good fortune.

More recently, Nunavut's artists have experimented with mixed media pieces and new materials such as silver. The artform was bolstered by a Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development crafts competition in 1976 that encouraged artists to fashion new and original "things that make us beautiful." Soon, jewellery workshops started in Iqaluit and Cope Dorset. The Nunavut Arctic College introduced a jewellery-making program in the 1990s, and have spread the program to many other communities since then.

From earrings, broaches and bracelets, to the Legislative Assembly of Nunavut's Mace to freestanding silver sculptures, Nunavut's jewellers are making a name for themselves within the Inuit art world.

Ceramics

When the Northern Rankin Nickel Mines, which had effectively created the community of Rankin Inlet, closed in 1962, the government was anxious to encourage artists there to explore new, potentially marketable areas. Under the coordination of a federal government arts and crafts officer, the artists tried their hand at carving, sewing and ceramics.

By 1966, the Rankin Inlet Ceramics Project had produced a large collection of innovative pieces that drew on new techniques and traditional themes and designs. A market to sell them, however, didn't exist until March 1967, when a highly promoted Toronto exhibition provided Rankin Inlet ceramics with a instant national profile and critical success.

Though the work was critically praised, however, sales struggled. Perhaps the ceramics were priced too high, or perhaps the connection to traditional methods and materials was not clearly established in the public mind. Either way, the workshop struggled for a number of years until it closed in 1977.

The Matchbox Gallery, however, has been encouraging Rankin Inlet's artists to revisit ceramics since the early 1990s, with some promising results.

Fibre Arts

Practically, Inuit fibre arts began with women sewing the clothing necessary to survive and children making dolls to learn how to sew. Commercially, however, its roots are initatives from the 1960s, such as a Pangnirtung weaving project and, even before that, garments and tapestries from Baker Lake.

The Baker Lake initiative grew in part out of a near tragedy in the 1950s. When caribou migration patterns changed, the inland Inuit of the Keewatin (Kivalliq) faced the disappearance of their key food source and the source of most of their fabric. Baker Lake women turned to southern fabrics and advice provided by female teachers and other qallunaat (non-Inuit) living there. The combination of traditional Inuit skills, European techniques, and new textiles in brilliant colours gave rise to beautiful wall-hangings. The marriage of the traditional and the modern created a vibrancy and uniqueness that today is the hallmark of the wide variety of fibre arts in Nunavut.

Baker Lake remains best known for its embroidered wall-hangings, the Pangnirtung Uqqurmiut Co-op releases several new tapestry designs each year, and Taloyoak is renowned for its packing dolls, arctic animals carrying their young in wool duffel parkas. Duffel (heavy wool) and inlay and appliqué clothing are also produced in many Nunavut communities.