2020 Cape Dorset Inuit Art Calendar
Cape Dorset, a small hamlet of about 1400 people nestled between rugged hills and a sheltered bay on the southwest of Baffin Island is one of Canada’s most successful and prolific art communities. Since 1959 Kinngait Studios, as it is now known, has released an annual collection of between 30 and 50 prints every year as well as commissions and special releases. It is the longest running print studio in Canada.
The Inuit have been making two dimensional images for thousands of years but printmaking as fine art did not begin in Cape Dorset until the late 1950’s. Most of the credit for the development of the printmaking program belongs to James Houston, a young resourceful artist with a taste for adventure and a penchant for tall tales. As the story goes, one day Oshweetok Ipeelie, a skilled hunter and carver of walrus tusks, picked up an empty cigarette package that Houston had tossed aside and remarked upon the supreme patience and skill of the person who drew with painstaking precision the identical image of a sailor on each and every pack. Houston tried to explain how multiple images are made and then began to demonstrate the fundamental principles of printmaking by rubbing soot over an incised walrus tusk. He then pressed a few sheets of paper over the image and pulled a few simple prints whereupon Ipeelie, amazed and delighted exclaimed, “We can do that.” Thus began a quest to find a genuine, indigenous and appropriate means of printmaking.
Although a few small editions of sealskin stencils were produced it was a cumbersome and limiting process and eventually it was discovered that the local carving stone used for sculpture was an ideal medium for relief printing. Houston then went to Japan to study the fundamental principles of woodblock printing and upon his return it was decided that Ukiyo-e, the traditional practice of translating an artist’s drawing into a print by a master printmaker would be the best way to proceed in Cape Dorset.
In 1958 the first experimental prints were exhibited and the response to this new art form was overwhelming. This early success encouraged the fledgling artists and printmakers to establish the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative which continues to operate today.
This year’s calendar celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection. Included among these twelve carefully selected images are Caribou (1957) by Pootoogook, one of the very first experimental prints made and Deep in Thought (2018) by Ningiukulu Teevee, one of the most recent prints from Kinngait Studios. Examples of prints representing every decade of the past 60 years showcase a superb sampling of this illustrious achievement.