Regions & Styles Of Inuit (Eskimo) Sculpture

(Base map after 1993 INAC map "Carvings from Arctic Canada" ISBN No. 0-662-59936-5 with permission of INAC)

The materials used and the styles of the sculptures vary immensely between the different regions and communities of the arctic. These differences are in part a function of the different local carving materials. Presented here are "thumbnail" explanations of some differences in materials and styles of Inuit sculptures from across the Canadian arctic.

No short descriptions can cover all aspects worthy of mention. For more information viewers are referred to references books such as Sculpture Of The Inuit by George Swinton and Inuit Art: An Anthology ed by Alma Houston and Helen Burgess to name but two. Another recent (1999) source which also provides excellent information on the carving stone is Northern Rock: Contemporary Inuit Stone Sculpture by Susan Gustavison, et al. For more information on the Internet, viewers are referred to our page More Information On Inuit Art.

Nunavut's Three Regions

Nunavut means "Our Land" in Inuktitut and in respect of the Inuit people, the names used for the different regions and communities are those chosen by "the people" who occupy the territory. Several of these names may be unfamiliar to many non-Inuit people. These may include the names of the three regions forming the new territory of Nunavut: Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin), Kivalliq (Keewatin), and Kitikmeot (Central Arctic). For reference purposes the previously used familiar names are shown in brackets ( ).

Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin)

Bird (standing and eating) from Cape DorsetQikiqtaaluk is the region of Nunavut previously referred to as Baffin. Artists from the southern part of the region, that is Cape Dorset through to Iqaluit, display through their art a love for the wildlife and for the spirit world in a flamboyant and dramatic way. Their sculptures are generally highly polished and often strongly stylized or elegantly natural subjects. Local serpentine is widely used and the preferred carving stone in this area. It comes in many shades of brown through green, including a lime to yellow-green serpentine known as precious serpentine because of its similarities to Chinese jade. A small amount of marble is also used in Cape Dorset. The marble ranges in color from white to green and to salmon pink, and is quarried at Andrew Gordon Bay, 50 km east of Cape Dorset.

(Alert) Wolf from Cape DorsetMany Pangnirtung artists, like the sculptors of Igloolik, portray dramatic and emotionally charged shamanic or mythological images. One of the local stones used in this community is a brown to black serpentine. Antler is also used by a number of artists, especially Guy Veevee.

Face from Clyde RiverArtists from Clyde River, in the northern part of Baffin Island, often work with a light green stone from the Mary River area. Antler and fossilized whalebone are also used in this area for carving, while ivory is often used in Broughton Island. Subjects include natural sea mammals, narrative camp scenes, and shamanic images and legends.

Bear (holding his ground) from SanikiluaqSanikiluaq is part of the Territory of Nunavut but is located on a chain of islands a short distance from Québec and off the eastern coast of Hudson Bay. Sculptors use the local stone, which is dominantly argillite. This is a fine-grained, layered rock of light gray to black color. The style of carving and subjects are similar to those found in Nunavik and typically are of naturalistic birds and mammals. Sanikiluaq sculptures characteristically employ incising or surface inscribed decoration to record minute details.

Kivalliq (Keewatin)

Inuk (with raised arms) from Baker LakeKivalliq occupies the western shores of Hudson Bay and is the region of Nunavut previously known as Keewatin. This region does not have many carving stone quarries. The stone used for carving is bluish to greenish gray or black in color. The rocks were originally peridotite intrusions and ultra-mafic, magnesium-rich volcanic rocks known as komatiite. The earth's metamorphism has changed these rocks to serpentinites and steatites (which contain a higher proportion of talc). At least one source known as Jigging Point contains little talc and provides a harder material. This quarry provides dominantly a chloritized peridotite and is located 50 km east of the community and along the north shore of Baker Lake.

Drum Dancer from ArviatSculptures from this region often carry broad curves and few details and employ a superb economy of line and simplicity of form. Several of the earlier carvers employ a style referred to as "minimalist" which is somewhat similar to that used by Henry Moore. As with every generalization, there are exceptions, and a number of carvers from this region have produced very detailed sculptures. The most common subjects are animals and family scenes. Shamans, games and animals are also the subjects of the antler carvings produced in this area.

Kitikmeot (Central Arctic)

Kitikmeot is the region of Nunavut that was formerly known as the Central Arctic. Sculptures from this area display a style of excessive realism to surrealism. Spirits and shamans are very popular subjects, while realistic miniatures employing ivory, antler and whalebone are popular from certain communities.

Spirit Hunter from Gjoa HavenPieces from Gjoa Haven characteristically are dark greenish black to black in color. These dark serpentinites, most of which were originally peridotite, are obtained from quarries located on the mainland which are shared with the communities of Taloyoak (formerly Spence Bay) and Pelly Bay. Often these blackish serpentinites display a mottling due to light green to whitish "rosettes" of the mineral tremolite. The latter mineral is harder than the surrounding material and usually creates a positive surface relief.

Sculptures from this region often have a shamanistic theme and exhibit distorted facial features. Taloyoak is also renowned for its whalebone sculptures while miniature ivory carvings are a feature from Pelly Bay and Repulse Bay.

Northwest Territories

This western arctic territory has a shortage of quality carving stone and artists from this region often prefer to use Brazilian soapstone. Artists from certain communities like Holman may use whalebone, which is locally available. The Brazilian soapstone comes in various shades of mottled brown to green. Popular subjects include animals and narrative camp or hunting scenes. Both igloo camp scenes and kayaks with detailed implements are featured subjects of pieces from Coppermine.

Nunavik (Arctic Québec)

(Two Walrus)from InukjuakNunavik means "Great Land" in Inuktitut and is the name the Inuit use for Arctic Québec. It was from this region that James Houston initially obtained the Inuit sculptures that he introduced to the western world in 1949. Sculptures from this area are often of a naturalistic or narrative style. Animals, family and hunting scenes, and legends are popular subjects.

(Feeding and Pleeding Bears) from Inukjuak(Feeding and Pleeding Bears) from InukjuakThe sculptures of Inukjuak are made of the local serpentinite that may ranges in color from a dark green to a greenish gray. Most of the other communities generally use the local gray or black soapstone or steatite. Argillite from Sanikiluaq is also used for sculptures of the nearby communities of Kuujjuaraapik and Povungnituk and occasionally Inukjuak. The Inuit artists of Nunavik also employ serpentine from Baffin Island when opportunity arises for boat trip to return with quantities of the material. The latter is more common for the communities of Akulivik, Ivujivik and Salluit, which are situated near the end of the Ungava Peninsula.

(Woman Working) from InukjuakUse of the local soapstone has developed a style that features broad and rounded volumes or that requires a base as part of the sculpture. Often this style is retained even though the material used may not be a steatite as is the case for most sculptures from Inukjuak that use a serpentinite.

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