Tag Archives: Antler

Get Up Close and Personal: Please DO Touch!

21 Aug

Over the past few weeks, Serena -the museum’s Summer YCW work intern, has been developing more interactive programming inside the museum. After brainstorming, researching, testing and training volunteers she was able to launch Get Up Close and Personal to share art works directly with museum visitors. Read about her experience creating the new program below.


Keeping museum pieces secure and safe from harm is a priority at any museum or art gallery. No museum is complete without a large sign or two saying “PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH”. However, if you’ve been to MIA in the last couple of months on a Thursday afternoon, you may have had the chance to participate in our new Get Up Close and Personal sessions.

These interactive sessions offer visitors the unique opportunity to touch objects from the MIA Educational Collection. Pieces in our Educational Collection are meant to be handled, so visitors can feel free to pick them up and learn more about the texture and material of each object.

I’ve been running these weekly Get Up Close and Personal sessions since July, and the results have been overwhelmingly positive so far. Visitors enjoy engaging in this tactile experience and trying to guess what material each piece is made of based on its texture.

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Serena is all set to go for ‘Get Up Close and Personal’. You can join a session every Thursday from 1-2 PM in the museum.

It’s quite interesting to see how visual appreciation of the works in the museum translates to visitors’ tactile experiences – I often ask visitors to feel the porous texture of the antler doll in the collection and to guess what material it is made of. The most common answers are “bone” and “wood”, so most visitors are surprised to learn that the doll is made of antler, which caribou shed every year.

It has been especially rewarding to see how visitors make connections between what they have already seen in the museum and what they are holding in their hands. Once visitors find out that the carved ivory piece is a walrus tusk, many of them mention the narwhal tusk and the small ivory sculptures in the historical case at the museum.

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Pieces from the museum’s Educational Collection that reflect the different types of materials and textures you can find in art produced by Inuit.

I’ve even encountered visitors who are familiar with Inuit art and have recognized different types of stone, pointing to Pudliak Shaa’s “Dancing Goose” and saying, “is that serpentine?”

These interactions with visitors are part of what makes working at MIA so fulfilling. I love contributing to visitor learning and watching visitors discover more about Inuit art. If you’d like to see (and touch) these objects for yourself, be sure to drop by the museum on Thursdays from 1-2 PM!

Posted by Serena Y., MIA’s Community Engagement Officer

Spotlight On: Caribou Antler

16 Jun

Walking though the Museum of Inuit Art, I notice that caribou antler can be found everywhere throughout the collection. But why d0n’t I know much about it? It’s a material that seems to keep a low profile. Caribou antler is a common material used in Inuit art that often escapes notice because of its artistic limitations – it’s not glossy, it’s not very strong, and it’s oddly shaped.  However, it is used in many different ways! A few artists carve and construct works solely from the material, but many use the antler for minute detailing, larger features, or use it in its natural form.

Caribou in the wild (c) Travis S., used under Creative Commons license.

The use of caribou antler in Inuit art varies due to regional styles and types of artistic materials available. Antler is widely available to Inuit artists, as caribou can be found north of the tree-line across the Canadian Arctic, and especially in the Kivalliq region of Nunavut. Both female and male caribou shed their antlers annually, so caribou are not hunted for their antler specifically.

Antler was traditionally used for utilitarian objects, such as buckles, snow goggles, and toys. Antler can be sawed or filed into shape, and can also be pegged or glued together to create more complex forms. In Arctic regions where the available stone is particularly hard and difficult to carve, antler can be used for detailing and emphasis.

Peter Assivaaryuk (1914-d), Qamanittuaq (Baker Lake), “Caribou Shaman” (1970s), caribou antler, Private Collection.

Caribou are particularly important for Inuit in the Kivalliq, who were traditionally nomadic hunters. The Kivalliq is also home to the Arctic’s only inland community, Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), so land mammals like caribou were much more important to survival in the surrounding area than sea mammals. Shamanim and hunting are common themes in art from this region, and often antler-based sculptures depict a tableau or scene, such as this intricate piece from Arviat displayed in the MIA collection:

Romeo Eekerkik (1923-1983), Arviat, “Journey to a Summer Camp” (1970s), Antler, Sprott/MIA Collection.

Because of the physical restrictions of antler as a material with a narrow circumference, artists often use pegs or glue to expand the form of their sculptures and create depth. Pegs can also function as joints, which provides the sculpture the possibility of movement, and mirrors a more traditional doll-like function.

Detail of pegs in Luke Iksiktaaryuk (1909-1977), Qamanittuaq (Baker Lake), “Standing Man” (mid-1970s), antler, metal, Private Collection.

Contemporary artist Mattiusi Iyaituk uses antler in a number of ways, sometimes as detailing or inlay, but most prominently he used the natural shape and curve of the antler with little alteration to its form. The points of the antler can represent fins, tails or hands. Mattiusi also uses antler as a base for many of his mixed-media sculptures, representing more spiritual and abstract forms.

Mattiusi Iyatuk (1950-), Akulivk, “My fantasy to one day see, to believe, Iaqluullamiluuq” (2008), stone, caribou antler, MIA Collection.

Next time you visit MIA, keep an eye out for all the ways artists use antler in their works. Find out more about materials in Inuit art, such as ivory and whalebone on the MIA blog!

– Posted by: Emma Ward, MIA’s Visitor Services Officer