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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


April 19, 2003 - Issue 85


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A Family Affair
Five Ashoona Women Celebrated in Toronto Retrospective

by Mariam Hill - Nunatsiag News

credits: (Photos Courtesy of the Guild Shop)

photo 1: A 1996 stonecut by Mayoreak Ashoona, Pitseolak Ashoona's daughter-in-law. Her work first appeared in the 1978 annual Cape Dorset Graphics collection.
photo 2: A drawing by Napachie Ashoona, Pitseolak Ashoona's daughter.

A 1996 stonecut by Mayoreak Ashoona, Pitseolak Ashoona's daughter-in-law. Her work first appeared in the 1978 annual Cape Dorset Graphics collection. Cape Dorset artist Pitseolak Ashoona loved to draw. Born in 1904, she is one of the community's most famous early graphic artists.

Ashoona, who passed away in 1983, and four of her family members are being celebrated in a Toronto art exhibition this month, called Women of the Ashoona Family: Inuit Print Retrospective.

Ann Tompkins, the Guild Shop's Inuit and native gallery director, says she's always been interested in families. All the gallery's shows this season are family oriented.

"I think it's marvelous," Tompkins says of the interplay between artists of different generations. "We think of Pitseolak and how she encouraged her daughter – and her sons were wonderful sculptors too – and then there's grandchildren. She encouraged both her daughters-in-law, Mayoreak and Sorsilitu to draw. One of the things she said to them was, 'You'll have a little income of your own.'"

The retrospective includes about 40 pieces from Pitseolak, her daughter Napachie Pootoogook, granddaughter Suvinai Ashoona, as well as daughters-in-law Sorosilitu and Mayoreak. There are prints, drawings, lithographs, etchings and even a few sculptures by Mayoreak.

Tompkins says her research shows Pitseolak created more than 7,000 drawings and more than 250 prints.

"She thought it was over 1,000," Tompkins says. "I've read about her from various sources and she said something like, 'I don't know how many drawings I've done, but more than 1,000. There are many Pitseolaks now, I have signed my name many times.'"

Not only was she prolific, Pitseolak shared her love of art with those around her.

A drawing by Napachie Ashoona, Pitseolak Ashoona's daughter."She said she wanted to keep drawing as long as she could and maybe even after she was gone," Tompkins says. In effect she has done just that by encouraging her daughter and other family members to engage in artistic endeavours.

Pitseolak also preferred to draw alone in her bedroom, something she had in common with her granddaughter, Suvinai.

"Her granddaughter would like to often lie on her bed on her stomach and not even have any support under the drawing, just draw away," she says.

Tompkins says the show, which she refers to as a labour of love, has been in the works for about a year. She visited Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto, the southern branch of the West Baffin Cooperative, three times to select the images.

"I was also looking for a nice balance and good cross section of subject matter and things that you could tell that each of the women was smiling when she was drawing," she says.

She tried to choose both prints and drawings from each woman, and noted that the work of each woman is decidedly different.

In the early years, Tompkins says, Pitseolak's work was very similar to her daughter Napachie's. But as time went on Napachie developed a style of her own.

"There's one of Napachie's prints, which is a picture of her holding a drawing of her tent and she's standing in front of her tent – it's delightful," Tompkins says.

Suvinai's style and subject matter is totally different from the others. She does landscapes that are not necessarily real and some that are almost photographic.

One of Tompkins' favourite works is a 1996 print by Mayoreak titled Isumavut. It shows two loons holding up a piece of paper in front of a walrus.

Tompkins says she has a theory about the meaning of the print.

"There was a man who worked in the print shop in Cape Dorset whose name was Walter. Often people whose name is Walter get a nickname of Walrus, so I think it's two of the artists showing a proof or something to Walter," she laughs.

"Pitseolak would have been 100 years old next year. We look at her things and feel like she's right here, smiling. It's art that makes you feel really good."

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