October 12 – November 12, 2019
In celebration of the Kinngait Studios’ 60th anniversary, this exhibition features an unbelievable collection of Cape Dorset prints—one from each year since the studios’ inception. The graphics chosen acknowledge the many artists who passed through the studios over six decades, highlighting their innovations in style, technique, scale, printmaking type, and subject matter.
Formally established in 1959, the studios have welcomed experimentation and innovation in printmaking for six decades, but the story started long before. Eight years earlier, Southern artist James Houston and his wife Alma were sent North by the Canadian government to establish an arts and crafts program in Kinngait. From there, the first printmaking experiments were initiated in 1957, followed by the first print shop in 1958, and finally, the inaugural print release in 1959.
The first print shop was small but mighty. At 512 square feet, the studio was referred to as sanaunguabik—a place to make small things. Today in 2019, things have changed: the print studios are now housed in the Kenojuak Cultural Centre, a 10,000 square foot space where community meetings and exhibitions are also held. Along with larger facilities have come larger prints. For example, Ooloosie Saila’s Silaksiaq (Beautiful Day), 2019. The lithograph stands at nearly three times the size of Kenojuak Ashevak’s Rabbit Eating Seaweed, 1959, the legendary artist’s first-ever print. Technique and subject matter has similarly evolved over time. Saila’s print is a lithograph, a technique introduced to the printshop in the 1970’s. Rabbit Eating Seaweed was made with stencil, a printmaking method that was implemented by Houston in the early days and still used today. While the two prints differ in many ways, they are linked by the thread of continued creativity from the Kinngait artists. From one generation to the next, artistic ambition remains consistent over six decades.
The 1950’s marked the experimental days of the fledgling studios. First generation artists like Kenojuak Ashevak were making fantastically imaginative drawings that would later become the basis for stonecut prints. The first prints were linocuts and eventually evolved into the stonecut, a Kinngait adaptation of Japanese woodblock printing. The use of stone made sense: it was a sustainable and local natural resource which many artists were already familiar with carving. Artist Kananginak Pootoogook, who was central to the printshop’s foundation years and the Co-op’s inaugural president, described the process of making the first prints:
“We first tried printmaking by using linoleum which was stuck to a piece of thin wood and when the glue was dry we would copy the design onto the linoleum with tools. When the design was finished it was inked and then paper was laid on top. This was rubbed well with a small spoon, and when it was well impressed the paper was removed. If it was satisfactory we made twelve copies. […] We also tried using small pieces of soapstone to see if it was better than linoleum, and so we made our first prints on stone.” —Kananginak Pootoogook (Cape Dorset Print Catalogue, 1973)
Terry Ryan joined the printshop in the summer of 1960 as Houston’s temporary assistant and was soon after hired as the studio’s first general manager. He introduced engraving and etching in “… an attempt to get them to omit the middle man,” as artists would be able to draw or etch directly on a plate rather than have original drawings pass through several hands during the stonecut process. In 1961, the first engraving was made by artist Kiakshuk. Stencil was also used frequently, as seen in Kiakshuk’s Ancient Meeting, 1960 and Mary Igiu’s People of the Sea, 1961. The claim that stencils were made from sealskin was later revealed as simply a marketing strategy to appeal to a Southern audience. In reality, the early stencils were much more makeshift—made from Bristol board covered in melted wax.
The 1970’s marked the introduction of lithography to the Kinngait Studios. Ryan acquired both a lithography and a Vandercook proofing press from the South which made the heavy journey North to Kinngait’s new litho-shop. Several lithographers from the South made the trip to Kinngait to train a specialized team of printers. The studio also had a brief stint with typography and produced the superb publication The Inuit World, before closing-up the type shop for good. Southern artists like Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, Les Levine, Toni Onley, and William Kurelek travelled North for collaborations at the Kinngait studios. Toronto-based artist K.M. Graham facilitated experiments in acrylic painting which involved Lucy Qinnuayuaq, Pudlo Pudlat, and Kingmeata Etidlooie. These artists later incorporated the new technique of painting with a brush onto their own prints.
The 1980’s marked a period of continuous collaboration with artists and printers from the South, rejuvenating creativity and solidifying the consistency of excellent print production. While some collaborators simply worked in the studios as guests, others held workshops for printing methods such as etching, lithography, and woodcut. Painting and photography workshops occurred as well. This cross pollination allowed printers to hone their skills and artists to embrace new approaches to lithography. Towards the end of the decade, artist and printmaker Bill Ritchie arrived to guide the lithography studio; this was the beginning of a thirty-year collaboration during which Ritchie encouraged printers and artists to experiment and take on greater challenges.
The 1990’s started off with a bang: Pudlo Pudlat became the first Inuit artist to have a solo-exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada. In the North, printmaking innovation continued. Ryan invited Montreal printer Paul Machnik to the Kinngait Studios in 1994 to re-introduce etching to the artists. This time aquatint was involved, incorporating vibrant washes of colour. Artist Mewa Armata facilitated oil stick drawing workshops during these years, which combined the aesthetic of oil paint with the familiarity of a drawing stick. These new techniques of the 1990’s resonated particularly well with artist Sheojuk Etidloie, whose etching and aquatints prints were featured prominently in the annual print collections between 1994–1999. The year 1999 also marked the formation of Nunavut as its own territory (formerly the Northwest Territories), and the establishment of an Inuit-led government. Kenojuak Ashevak’s monumental diptych Siilavut, Nunavut (Our Environment, Our Land), 1999 celebrates this important moment in Canadian history.
The millennium marked the rise of a new generation of artists: Annie Pootoogook, Itee Pootoogook, Tim Pitsiulak, Jutai Toonoo and more. They began to see work that they started in the 1990’s come to fruition in the form of prints. There was a renewed energy in the studios as artists experimented with larger scale and more contemporary, personal subject matter. Even elder artists such as Ohotaq Mikkigak, Kenojuak Ashevak and Kananginak Pootoogook embraced these innovations.
In stonecut, the printers began to register prints, allowing for a more complicated application of colour through successive reduction of the image carved on the stone block. Machnik introduced the sugar lift technique to etching and aquatint prints. Kenojuak Ashevak’s 2010 print, Owl’s Overture, printed in this medium and hand coloured by Southern artist Harold Klunder was one of several such collaborations. Tim Pitsiulak had residencies in printing studios in both Vancouver and Toronto. In 2016, while working at Open Studio in Toronto, he created Swimming Bear, a rare and stunning silkscreen on black paper.
Sadly, in the last decade, the Studios lost many of their bright stars, including Arnaqu Ashevak, Kenojuak Ashevak, Kananginak Pootoogook, Itee Pootoogook, Jutai Toonoo, Tim Pitsiulak and Master Printer Pitseolak Niviaqsi. Their work remains with us and will endure. A new generation of artists are now working with the printmakers including Saimaiyu Akesuk, Padloo and Nicotye Samayualie, Quvianaqtuk Pudlat and Ooloosie Saila, all of whom have joined the studios in this same decade. The Kinngait Studios, housed now in the new Kenojuak Cultural Centre, are as creative and energetic as ever.
The imagery seen in this survey of prints from Cape Dorset over the last 60 years is original, varied and stunning. The reason that these images are so beautiful is because they were perfectly translated into the print medium by generations of master printers. Technically perfect, nuanced, creative and always reflective of the artist’s intent, these prints are a collaboration; their impact lies as much with the image as it does with the quality of the printing.
Under studio managers and technical advisors such as Terry Ryan, Jimmy Manning, Wally Brannen and Bill Ritchie, printers were guided to excel. Over the past 60 years expert printmakers have been trained and nurtured by the studios—from Kananginak Pootoogook and Iyola Kingwatsiak in 1959 to Qiatsuq Niviaqsi, Qavavau Manumie and Niveaksie Quvianaqtuliaq in 2019.
While the importance of this collaboration between printer and artist may not be evident to viewers in the South, the Kinngait Studios have always recognized this; both printer and artist sign each print with their individual chop. As the Kinngait Studios releases their 60th Annual Collection of prints I look forward to the next decades.
Patricia Feheley, October 2019