Sunday, March 6, 2016

Inuit Art

It is amazing how short a time social media such as Facebook  has been with us and it has totally changed our lives.  More than once have I been introduced to people “virtually”.  The first time it happened I wasn’t even sure what it meant.  A dealer from New York met a collector from Santa Fe in Paris and knowing I lived there introduced us by email.  If I had gotten a phone call or letter that someone from Santa Fe had been at the fair I would not have wanted to get in touch for fear of imposing.  Yet, we have now become friends in Santa Fe.

It happened again last year when a wonderful Cherokee Basket weaver, Shan Goshorn sent an email saying in part, “Please may I introduce a friend of mine to you? Like you, he is an astute collector who also writes about native art and the art world. He is a retired teacher from NYC where he still resides and will attend Indian market next month, I believe for the first time.”  His name is Edd Guarino.   We did not meet that summer though we did correspond through email.  A couple of weeks ago, however, he came into the Ralph T. Coe Foundation, where I volunteer, brought by a friend of the Foundation President, Rachel Wixom.  He had come for the opening of an exhibition of works on paper from his collection of Inuit Art showing at the Museum of Contemporary Indian Art (MOCNA).

I became aware of Inuit Art when I visited my son, Danny, in Traverse City Michigan.  Needless to say, we went to the local museum, The Dennos, and their strongest collection is from the Baffin Island area of Nunavut, Canada.  It includes a 1,000 prints, sculptures, drawings tools and textiles.  Funnily enough I only remember prints and drawings in black and white.   There is probably much more but nothing else there particularly intrigued me.

I was most pleasantly surprised when Edd took me into his exhibition,  "Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait".  There was color everywhere and fascinating subjects.  The exhibition offers a visual conversation between an Inuk grandmother, mother, and daughter – Pitseolak Ashoona (1904-1983), Napachie Pootoogook (1938-2002), and Annie Pootoogook (1969- ).   The matriarch bore her husband 17 children had to bring them up on her own after he died.  She settled in Cape Dorset where she was a pioneer draughtsman creating 9,000 drawings within 20 years!   “Family Camping in Tuniq Ruins”, 1976.  stonecut and  stencil, lent by Dorset Fine Arts, is typical of her intricate works of art.  I must say that I needed the title attached though I am sure that a Native would have understood the symbolism.

Pitseolak was encouraged to concentrate her art on community rather than the individual “Migration Towards our Summer Camp”, 1984, lithograph lent by Dorset Fine Arts,  if you like me were brought up on the East Coast think of an Indian camp not summer camp in Maine.  This is one of her last works and reminds me of the African-American Migration Series by Jacob Lawrence.

As in so many Native Families it is not just one member who is an artist but it becomes a tradition and even a dynasty of artists.  No exception here.  Many of Pitsolak’s progeny became artists and one of her daughters Napachie Pootoogook is represented here.  I love this lithograph of 1989 titled, “Nascopie Reef”  from Edd’s collection who supplied the following 3 images.  We don’t need any more information to realize how dangerous that reef is and of all the boats that have broken up on it.  The remaining images are courtesy of Edward J. Guarino.

I wrote the last paragraph before receiving the backstory, which Edd sent me: “Nascopie Reef documents an historic episode in the life of Cape Dorset residents.  The people of Cape Dorset depended on the supply ship Nascopie to bring them goods to get them through the winter.  In July, 1947 the R. M. S. Nascopie hit a reef off Cape Dorset.  The citizens of the town rushed out to the ship to try to get as much off of it before it sank, knowing that it carried the only supplies they would see all year.  Without them they could not make it through the winter.  This event was so traumatic that it is still vivid in the minds of the people of Cape Dorset so much so that a number of artists have created works that reference this incident.” I thought this an excellent example of how if the work of art is successful the history is not necessary though it helps to expand our knowledge.

Napachie’s daughter Annie is more involved in family than community.  The drawing of her grandmother, Pitseolak, is a woman we all know instinctively.  It is a sympathetic portrait of an older person.  Do note the child peeking in on the right side in this image of everyday family life “Drinking Tea”.

My last image by Annie, “Couple Sleeping” 2002-2003, a drawing with pencil, crayon and ink, shows a major progression in style using color as much as draughtsmanship  to depict the scene.  Gustav Klimt at the beginning of the last century used color similarly to form his subject.

I am asked why I continue to do these Missives week after week numbering well over 300 by now and there are two simple answers.  One is that if I stop even for a week I feel I may never start again and the other is that every week I am able to learn something new or at least get a fresh insight into another world.

1 comment:

  1. We have a nice mini-collection of Inuit art and sculpture. We'll be hosting family and friends plus traveling for next six weeks. After that, let's get together at our home so you can examine our Inuit things. Be fun to see you and Penelope.