Early Printmaking in Ulukhaktok: Print Blocks

1 Jun

On Monday, I posted a look at the origins of stonecut printmaking in Ulukhaktok, which is the focus of our current special exhibition Bold Images in Stone. Today, I want to focus on the actual print blocks themselves because they are fascinating  objects in their  own right.

Most print blocks are destroyed after their use in a print run to maintain the integrity of an edition, which is why it’s really remarkable that these seven blocks have survived. The seven together paint a broad picture of the early printmaking program in Ulukhaktok and each has a unique story. I want to focus on one today that represents a number of different facets of the printmaking program.

This block is unique in that it is carved on both sides. Practically, this made it a challenge to display in the museum but usefully shows an economic approach to materials: the stone had to be brought into the community, so it makes to sense to use as much of its surface as possible. These images were both drawn by Agnes Nanogak Goose (1925-2001) but carved by Joseph Kitekudlak (1945 – ) and were released in the 1972 print collection. On the one side is the image for the print Will You Be Mine? and on the other, the image for Mam, Give it to Me.

Will You Be Mine? Print Block (1972), courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Mam, Give It To Me Print Block (1972), courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

The annual print catalogue for 1972 gives us some insight into each of the prints, since they are printed next to brief descriptions. Will You Be Mine tells the story of an owl who is in love with a ptarmigan:

An owl was in love with a ptarmigan. He killed the husband she loved, and now wants to court her. The ptarmigan takes revenge by mocking him.

Mam, Give it to Me tells a very different story:

Mother has caught a ptarmigan in her net. When she brings it home, her child requests it for a toy.

What I love about this block is that not only is it uniquely double-sided and showing a crucial step in the printmaking process, but it also displays the real process of carving this block. The carver’s labor is very clearly on display here. For example, take a look at this close-up from the Will You Be Mine? side:

Detail of Will You Be Mine? Print Block, courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Close-up of the body of the owl in Will You Be Mine?

The individual cuts Kitekudlak made into the stone are clearly visible. The  absolute precision of his work is also apparent in the detailed cuts made into the body of the owl, or on the clothing in Mam, Give it to Me. These small, precise cuts powerfully demonstrate the skill and dedication it takes to make this object which was never even meant to be displayed: like creating drawings on which the prints are based, this is the hidden work of stonecut printing, done before the ink is even applied and the paper put down. These objects help illuminate the unseen process of producing prints in addition to being interesting in their own right.

On Friday, I’ll be discussing the Kalvak/Emerak Memorial Catalogue which is also part of our display, so be sure to check back.

Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator

-Quotes are taken directly from the 1972 Holman Annual Print Catalogue.

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2 Responses to “Early Printmaking in Ulukhaktok: Print Blocks”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Early Printmaking in Ulukhaktok: the Kalvak/Emerak Memorial Catalogue « Peek Inside the Museum of Inuit Art - June 3, 2011

    [...] on Monday I discussed the origins of the printmaking program in Ulukhaktok and on Wednesday, we looked more closely at the print blocks themselves. Today, I want to focus on another important element of our exhibition: the Helen Kalvak and Mark [...]

  2. Volunteer Appreciation Week: Kyle M. | Peek Inside the Museum of Inuit Art - April 9, 2014

    […] so I paid the MIA a visit. In one of the strangest coincidences of my life, MIA actually had the original stone print block on temporary display when I visited. I knew I had to learn […]

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