Canadian Inuit Art at Home & Away Gallery
The Inuit peoples of Canada have been creating objects of beauty for thousands of years. Until the middle of the 20th century, most of their creations were small, as the people were nomadic, and larger objects were not practical.
The ancient carvings are thought to be either decorated utilitarian objects (toggles, buttons, etc.), shamanic amulets, toys or games. They were carved from bone, antler, or ivory (walrus tusk, narwhal tusk, walrus teeth, whale teeth, etc.).
While the Inuit people did not have a word for art, they continued to carve through the ages. Once European traders and whale boats began to travel to the Canadian Arctic regions, the Inuit began to create objects specifically for trade. This practice continued on a small scale through the 1940's, when a young Canadian artist called James Houston first encountered small Inuit sculptures. Houston managed to obtain funding for an exhibition of Inuit sculptures in Montreal in 1949. The success of this exhibit encouraged Houston and others to establish marketing and distribution organizations which have since evolved into Inuit-owned cooperatives. In 1959, the first collection of limited edition prints was released in Cape Dorset.
The cooperatives continue to operate among most Inuit communities, and the Cape Dorset print studios continue to create annual print collections. Contemporary Inuit art is a highly sought after art form not only in Canada, but also in the United States and across the world. Today's Inuit artists are exposed to western ways, tools and aesthetics, but they maintain strong ties to their origins: their work often portrays Arctic wildlife, and sometimes incorporates important Inuit legends and stories. Most artists learn how to carve or draw from family or friends, so artwork has become a link between generations, and a link to ideas, customs, and legends that may otherwise be lost.
To learn more, see our Inuit art reading list.