The Private Series: Widding Collection

Exhibition opened March 23, 2024

On display in the Ithaca home of Mary and Fred Widding lay a remarkable array of Inuit sculptures. Now, transitioning from the intimate settings of their home to Feheley Fine Arts, this exceptional collection not only showcases a diverse spectrum of styles, materials, and narratives, but also embodies a profound reverence for carvings from the North. Mary Widding notes that each piece in the collection sparks immense joy for her, and she hopes that this connection to the works will resonate similarly with others. From the precious intricate bird carvings from Sanikiluaq (Belcher Islands), to the abstract minimal carvings of Arviat, the Widding collection highlights a plethora of techniques and styles found across the Northern Arctic.

The history of stone carving in the North is richly rooted in storytelling, trade, and resource. Historically communicated through oral traditions, these material objects reflect a deep cultural history, echoing the importance of community, spirituality, and the natural world. Within these symbols, we can learn about traditional life in the North through dress and hunting, as seen in Hunter with Spear by Lucassie Nowra.

In a time of immense strain, their works instead functioned as a mode of survival. Dating back to the mid 20th century, many stone carvings were not sold as artworks, but instead used as a currency for equitable trade. Many Inuit carvers traded pocketable stone works for food, clothing, and goods from the South. Amidst this, another aspect of these works is their sense of character, anchored by an unexpected force—humour. From a bird using an Inuk as its nest, to polar bears playfully dancing, to the abstract rendition of a featureless “animal”, there is a sense of duality in the works, balancing the darkness with the light.

Heavily represented in this collection is a vast array of local stone from each region. In Baker Lake, the hard black basalt stones present round forms with a matte finish. This contrasts with the detailed carvings of soft serpentine stones used in Cape Dorset and Sanikiluaq. From Baker Lake, Sanikiluaq, Arviat, Cape Dorset, and more, the Widding Collection exhibition presents a remarkable opportunity to collect, and enjoy, older works that explore the depth and diversity from the last 70 years.