Masterpieces from a Masterful Collector


Preview of 2 works from the Masterful Collector which will be available for sale at the First Arts Auction, December 1st

These two spectacular sculptures by Karoo Ashevak and John Tiktak were among the Masterful Collector’s favourite works. Both are incredible examples of the artist’s styles, representing the absolute height of their creative abilities. For more information about the works and how to bid, please visit www.firstarts.ca.

For one masterful collector, the desire to collect the best of what Inuit art had to offer began in the 1980s. Canadian and Inuit art had been a background piece in his life growing up as his father was close to Allan Lambert, the TD Bank CEO responsible for starting the bank’s renowned art collection in the 1960s. When Pat Feheley brought him on a tour of the bank’s world-renowned Inuit art collection in the mid-1980s, he was enamored with the classic carvings from the 1950s and 1960s, including a Migration Boat by Puvirnituq artist Joe Talirunili. From there, his fascination to collect only the best began. The fact that these early works came solely from the spirit, eyes and culture of these early Inuit carvers, with little or no outside influence or training, was to him, both remarkable and unique in the art world.

Among his favourite artists collected were Taloyoak whalebone master carver, Karoo Ashevak, and Nunavik (Arctic Quebec) greats Davidialuk Alasua Amittu and Johnny Inukpuk, each of which were featured in his collection sometimes more than once (an exception to his rule, to hold only the best of each at one time).

In addition to collecting the best representations of each artist’s style, a tendency toward the unusual or deviations from the norm influenced the collecting ethos. For example, Karoo’s Shaman with Mittens (1972) exhibits a feature often seen in the artist’s work – mittens – albeit included in a charmingly unusual way. Here, a bodyless spirit is held up by steadying enlarged mittens, carved in the round as opposed to etched on to a surface as is typically seen in Karoo’s work. A rare and spirited piece by one of Inuit art’s greats.

Rare and unusual works enrich the collection. John Pangnark’s exquisite sculpture Untitled (c. 1973-74), for example, may be defined by being both geometric yet sinuous with beautifully smooth surfaces, is an uncharacteristically large piece for the artist. Likewise, Joe Talirunili’s detailed figure Man Returning From Hunt retains all characteristics of the artist’s hunting figures pictured in both prints and as placements in his spectacular Migration Boats. It was rare for the artist to incorporate such detail into a singular small piece. The incredible early masterpiece Standing Mother and Child (c. 1950s), by an Artist Unknown, sports intricately incised ornamentation on the front and back of her amauti. It is highly attractive while incredibly unusual for the time. Among many others, these works double as extraordinary representations in demonstrating the best of Inuit art, sometimes with rare and unusual taste.

So why is it time to pass on these cherished works from a lifetime of collecting? For this collector, downsizing and estate planning meant the only option was sending these sculptures to storage where they could not be enjoyed or seen. In his mind, collectors are only temporary custodians of masterworks. They inherit the responsibility to display masterpieces for others to enjoy in the hope that many will be enlightened and awestruck. This keeps the spirit, creativity and imagination of these great Inuit artists alive forever.

I saw the TD Collection’s Joe Boat and was fascinated with the story and how the artist depicted it. When this one came around I was stunned. Not only is it a great sculpture, but it includes a photo of the artist making the very same piece, along with the story behind the work, hand-written by the artist.

The Masterful Collector

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