Early Printmaking in Ulukhaktok: the Kalvak/Emerak Memorial Catalogue

3 Jun

This week we’ve been taking 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 another important element of our exhibition: the Helen Kalvak and Mark Emerak Memorial Print Catalogue.

Released in 1987, this collection of prints paid homage to two of the most important figures in the early Ulukhaktok print studio: Helen Kalvak, CM, RCA (1901-1984) and Mark Emerak (1901-1983). Both Kalvak and Emerak were prolific graphic artists who began drawing early in the history of the cooperative in Ulukhaktok, after the encouragement of Father Henri Tardy.

Helen Kalvak by Stanley Kelngenberg (1987), Lithograph, courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Helen Kalvak was born in 1901 in a camp on the shores of Tahiryuak Lake on Victoria Island. She was the only surviving child of Inoqtamik and Halukhit, who taught her traditional legends and hunting skills. Her father began training her as an angatkok, or shaman; eventually, she was respected not only as an angatkok but also as an atotainaktok, a person with supernatural powers that came from both spirit helpers and magic songs. She was one of very few women to have traditional tattoos on her face and hands. She married Manayok, a hunter from eastern Victoria Island, and both were celebrated as singers. In 1960, Manayok passed away and Kalvak moved into the community of Ulukhaktok. Father Henri Tardy encouraged her to draw after watching her sketch of some clothing before she made it, which was unusual. She produced more than 1,800 drawings between 1962 and 1978, 154 of which were made into prints between 1965 and 1985. Her graphic works tend to focus on themes of traditional life in the western Arctic in surprising detail. Her keen eye recorded everything from the design of traditional skin clothing to the minutiae of insects that live in the local water, all of which are represented in this collection. She was inducted into the Royal Canadian Academy in 1975 and into the Order of Canada in 1978.

Mark Emerak by Stanley Klengenberg (1987), Lithograph, courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Mark Emerak was born in 1901 near Cambridge Bay in the southeastern portion of Victoria Island. He and his parents Alikamak and Komana lived on the land. In 1914, Emerak met Diamond Jenness and other explorers and anthropologists. Jenness eventually published a song of Emerak’s in an anthology many years later. He married a widow named Napayualuk. However, after a year, her male relatives assisted another man in taking her to marry someone else. Emerak eventually married a woman named Odjok and together they raised ten children on the land. After his wife’s death in the early 1950s, Emerak moved his family into the community of Ulukhaktok. He began drawing in 1966 at Father Henri Tardy’s suggestion and began to receive encouragement almost immediately. His development as a graphic artist is fascinating: Emerak’s first drawing was of solely a bow and arrow; Tardy encouraged him to draw more, so his next drawing was of the same bow and arrow with a very small hand. He went on to produce more than 900 drawings and 41 of these were made into prints. Though known because of his prints, he never participated in printmaking himself. His work has a unique spirit and often depicts communal moments in daily life.

The Memorial Catalogue

Produced in 1987, the Kalvak/Emerak Memorial Cataolgue comprises twelve prints based on the pencil drawings of Helen Kalvak, OC (1901-1984) and Mark Emerak (1901-1983, as well as a portrait of each artist.  The prints were executed by many important graphic artists from Ulukhaktok: Elsie Klengenberg Anaginak (1946 – ), Harry Egutak (1925 – ), Mona Ohoveluk Kuneyuna (1935-1992), Mabel Nigiyok (1938 – ), Louis Nigiyok (1960 – ), Mary Okheena (1957-) and Peter Palvik (1960 – ).

The catalogue demonstrates an interesting moment in the history of the cooperative: in 1987, the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council disbanded, so that co-operatives were in total control of which prints would be released for public sale; two of the print programs’ luminaries had passed on; and stonecut printing had fallen out of use. Due to the difficulty in obtaining materials and the inherent hazards of the process, the cooperative stopped using the stonecut method in 1987. Interestingly, the catalogue features some of the other printmaking techniques that Ulukhaktok printmakers used in lieu of the stonecut: lithography and stencil printing. We’ve chosen to display two stencil prints and three lithographs alongside the stonecut prints in this exhibition to demonstrate the differences between the techniques. For example, take a look at Helen Kalvak’s Calling For Seals/Natiknik Toghlaokton to her Waiting/Otakivok:

Helen Kalvak, "Calling For Seals/Natiknik Togholaokton" (1987), printed by Louis Nigiyok, Stonecut, courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Helen Kalvak, "Waiting/Otakivok" (1987), printed by Mabel Nigiyok, Stencil, courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Calling For Seals is a stonecut print, while Waiting is a stencil print. The difference in the style is striking, even though they were based on the same artist’s drawings. Stonecut prints have a bolder, sharper look to them, while stencils are a bit softer and allow for a different level of detail. The use of color is different, too, just based on the nature of the process: stencil printmakers have immense control over the intensity of color that gets applied to the paper, while stonecut printmakers do not have the same level of control.

Lithographs are also represented in the collection. Compare Mark Emerak’s Summer Fishing/Aoyami Ikalukhioktok to his Feasting On Caribou/Nigliktun Tuktumik:

Mark Emerak, "Summer Fishing/Aoyami Ikalukhioktok" (1987), printed by Harry Egutak, Stonecut, courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

Mark Emerak "Feasting On Caribou/Nigliktun Tuktumik" (1987), printed by Mary Okheena, Lithograph, courtesy of Canadian Arctic Producers

The difference in style is once again clear, despite their formal similarities: though each main image is bound by an outline, the lithograph has a very different feel. The stonecut again has a bold simplicity that is powerful and arresting, while the lithograph is incredibly detailed, using gradations of color.

Bold Images In Stone, though focusing on stonecut prints, includes these examples of other techniques not only to display beautiful works by some of Ulukhaktok’s master graphic artists but also to illustrate the changing landscape of printing in the community. 1987 was an interesting, transitional year for the print program in Ulukhaktok that gave way to experimentation with different printmaking techniques that would come to define the style of the contemporary program that is still vibrant today.

Next week, I’ll be taking a look at some of the other print blocks on display and the stories they tell about the history of printmaking in Ulukhaktok – stay tuned!

Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator

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