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Saumik: James Houston’s Legacy

February 10, 2007 to June 8, 2008

This exhibition focused upon the late James Houston and the early days of art making in Kinngait (Cape Dorset).

Ivory carvers like Osuitok Ipeelee were already famous before Houston’s visit to Cape Dorset with his wife Alma in 1951. In fact Ipeelee had been known for his ivory work since the late 1940s. By the early fifties the use of stone came into favour and in the mid-fifties larger-scale stone sculpture had become one of the standards along with the strong but short-lived period of sealskin appliqué and sealskin hangings. Ivory, scrimshaw, and in the Baffin region in particular, the sealskin works have been considered the immediate precursors to what is now known as the Contemporary period in Inuit art. Changes began to take place quickly between 1949-1955, beginning this period of intense experimentation and invention that rivalled two centuries of innovations in the previous Historic Period (1770s-1940s), and after a five thousand year history of carving among Inuit one of the most significant changes occurred in Kinngait in the late fifties.

James Houston, known as Saumik or “the left-handed one” in the Inuit language of Inuktitut, was the leading proponent in establishing printmaking in Kinngait. Houston approached his friend and fellow artist Osuitok Ipeelee during the now legendary conversation they had about the reproduction of a single graphic. After Houston demonstrated the printing technique with ink, a newly carved tusk, and tissue, Ipeelee agreed that there were indeed many interesting possibilities to be found in this new medium.

Houston and Ipeelee gained the support of two important elders Pootoogook and Kiakshuk, and after attracting the interest of Iyola Kingwatsiak, Lukta Qiatsuq, Kananginak Pootoogook and his brother Eegyvudluk Pootoogook the early experiments in printmaking began in the winter of 1957.

A small series of prints by a dozen artists was released in 1958. The group became larger as the most talented and enthusiastic printmakers joined and the first catalogued collection was released in 1959. Noted Kinngait artists Parr, Niviaksiak, Pudlo Pudlat, Pitseolak Ashoona, Napatchie Pootoogook, Lucy Qinnuayuak, Mangitak Kellypalik, the renowned Kenojuak Ashevak, and many others all made important contributions.

Saumik: James Houston’s Legacy offers a unique opportunity for the viewer to experience first hand this pivotal moment in Canadian art history through selected graphics, both drawings and prints, along with a survey of works, early to very recent, by specific key artists like Kenojuak Ashevak. In addition to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection’s extensive holdings of Inuit art the Gallery is also pleased to present Kenojuak Ashevak’s exciting recent drawing Mother of the Children, 2005 on loan for its first ever gallery showing.

Karen Williamson
Guest Curator


Kenojuak Ashevak, (1927-)
Kinngait (Cape Dorset)
Mother of the Children, 2005
graphite, coloured pencil. and pen and ink on paper
122.0 x 244.0 cm
On loan from the collection of John and Joyce Price
Image courtesy Dorset Fine Arts

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