Printmaking: Another Use for Stone

Puvirnituq was the first community to follow Cape Dorset’s successful venture into printmaking. Unlike Cape Dorset, where printmaking was systematically nurtured and guided by such professional artists as Jim Houston and Terry Ryan, advice given to Nunavik printmakers tended to be erratic. Co-op manager Gordon Yearsley and art advisor Viktor Tinkl provided some consistency in the early years, but clashes with the federal bureaucracy and the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council soon resulted in the printmakers being left to their own devices. In later years, Les Fédération Coopératives du Nouveau-Quebec (FCNQ) contracted a few short term advisors to work in Puvirnituq. The lack of tutoring and quality control of prints from this community, now valued for their spontaneity, was often deplored by the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council.

Perhaps the outstanding features of Pov prints are the inclusion of the irregular edge of the stone to contain the images and the narrative inclination that is evident in prints by Leah Qumaluk, Davidialuk, Joe Talirunili, Lucassie Tookalook and others. The earliest prints were monochromatic, usually black, but sometimes blue, red, or green, raw colours used directly from the ink cans. Typically, printers in this community did not work from drawings but cut directly into the stone. As Erla Socha wrote (1978), "there [was] no attempt to conceal material origin in the uncritical acceptance of scratches and blemishes of the stone surface. A Povungnituk print cannot be mistaken for a wood engraving, a serigraph, or a drawing-board graphic."

The earliest prints were monochromatic, usually black, but sometimes blue, red, or green, raw colours used directly from the ink cans.

There were some attempts to develop printmakers in a few other Nunavik communities. A printmaking workshop was held in Inukjuak in 1972 under the guidance of Thomassie Echaluk and his nephew, Noah, who had participated in an earlier FCNQ-organized workshop in Puvirnituq. An abandoned portable classroom, being used by the co-op as a warehouse, was turned over to the Echaluks.  It took days to clear out the merchandise (mostly hundred-pound sacks of flour) and weeks more to locate big flat pieces of stone and to set up the working area.

The Inukjuak print shop was used as a community resource. In 1974, artist Johnny Inukpuk - weaponless except for a stick - survived being trapped in a small igloo by three bears. The story was told and retold in the village and people wanted it recorded. Someone suggested that Inukpuk make a carving but, in the end, it was decided that a print would be a better choice. A few men accompanied Inukpuk to the schoolhouse-cum-warehouse-cum-print shop where Thomassie organized a space and materials for him. When a southern artist/advisor, there for a few weeks and apparently unaware of what was happening, attempted to show Inukpuk how to do printmaking, he was quietly restrained by the co-op manager. What was happening had little to do with printing technique; it was, rather, an effort to record a piece of history, the creation of an image to convey one man’s experience. The resulting print was entitled A true story of Johnny being attacked by three bears while in his igloo.

In Ivujivik, Tivi Paningina worked on his own to produce several print editions and fledgling printmaking shops operated briefly in Kuujjuaraapik (where Henry Napartuk and Lucy and Noah Meeko worked) and in Kangiqsualujjuaq, where Tivi Etook and his son-in-law, Peter Morgan, showed a keen interest. Etook, who reluctantly became a printmaker in 1972 when his community elected him to attend a workshop in Puvirnituq, was the first Inuk to produce a solo catalogued collection. No printmaking has been done in Nunavik since 1989.

This is an excerpt from “Making Art in Nunavik: A Brief Historical Overview,” by Marybelle Mitchell, published in Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 13, no. 3 (Fall):4-17


1978 “The Graphics of Povungnituk,” Arts West, vol.3, no. 5 (September-October):34-7