Early Printmaking in Ulukhaktok: Background

30 May

As I’ve mentioned before, MIA is currently featuring a special exhibition called Bold Images In Stone that looks at the early years of the printmaking program in Ulukhaktok (Holman). We’ve received some great feedback about the exhibition and as a result, I thought I’d provide a few more in-depth looks at what the exhibition covers. In this post, I want to lay out how the cooperative, printmaking and the stonecut technique were introduced to Ulukhaktok.

But first things first: before I start talking about the printmaking program, I’d like to talk a bit about the actual community of Ulukhaktok (also spelled Ulukhaqtuuq and Uluqsaqtuua) and the beginnings of its cooperative. Located on Victoria Island, Ulukhaktok is also referred to as Holman, named in honor of the explorer J. R. Holman. It is now part of the Northwest Territories Inuvik Region and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

Ulukhaktok's location

Known as the Holman Eskimo Cooperative, the local co-op was founded in 1961 with the encouragement of Father Henri Tardy, a priest who ran the local Catholic mission in the community. He, along with five other local Inuit, pooled their resources and began the co-op in order to help combat increasingly difficult circumstances: white fox fur prices had plummeted and tuberculosis was on the rise, making it very hard to survive.

The co-operative began experimenting with printmaking after Tardy saw a print from Kinngait (Cape Dorset) at a friend’s home. Tardy enthusiastically began encouraging print production using sealskin stencils and an inked toothbrush. The first ten prints, prepared by Peter Aliknak and Henry Egutak, were submitted in 1962 to the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, a body that supervised Inuit art production and acted as a de facto “gateway” to print releases. These prints were rejected, as the CEAC felt that they showed too much southern influence: they employed perspective and used backgrounds, which bore no resemblance to prints being produced in Kinngait.

Barry Coomber, a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, was sent to Ulukhaktok in 1963 to help the cooperative and introduced new printmaking techniques, including stonecut blocks. Limestone from Minto was brought into the community and used for this process, which became emblematic of the community’s style. The first full print collection from Ulukhaktok was completed in 1965 and displayed to the public on November 19 at the New Brunswick Museum.

Stonecut printmaking is the focus of our exhibition and was the technique most closely associated with Ulukhaktok’s early style of printing. The basis of stonecut printing is the actual stone block used to pull the print: the stone is chopped flat and then the image is carved into the stone. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, though; not only is the image based on a drawing, but it has to be carved in mirror image so the print looks correct when it’s pulled. You can see this most clearly with signatures: in this block for The Power of Amulets/Atatalgit  (1987) by Helen Kalvak, CM (1901-1984), the artist’s name is carved in reverse so that it will be legible in the print. You can see photos of this process inside the museum or watch this video of Harry Egutak making a stonecut print, at the Virtual Museum’s exhibition Holman: Forty Years of Graphic Art, produced by the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Close-up of Helen Kalvak's signature, as carved into the print block for The Power of Amulets/Atatalgit

The print block for Helen Kalvak's The Power of Amulets/Atatalgit (1987), courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

The Power of Amulets/Atatalgit print (1987), courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Check back to the blog on Wednesday for more about the actual stone blocks themselves and on Friday to learn more about the Kalvak/Emerak Memorial Catalogue also on display here.

Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator

For more information, please see:

-Tardy, Father Henri. “The Beginnings of the Holman Eskimo Co-Op” Inuktitut (Winter 1979): 68-75.

-Wight, Darlene Coward. Holman: Forty Years of Graphic Art. Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2001.

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One Response to “Early Printmaking in Ulukhaktok: Background”

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

    […] a closer look at the objects in our new exhibition, Bold Images in Stone: 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 […]

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