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Nunavik Art Alive - Artist Profiles - Lucy Meeko

Lucy Meeko (1929–2004)

We carvers never just blindly start carving. The stone has to reveal itself to us before anything is done.

(Lucy Meeko)

ROOTS

Born in 1929, near Kuujjuarapik.

WHEN AND HOW SHE GOT STARTED

Meeko began carving when Solomonie, an Elder from Akulivik, and his family moved to their camp in the 1950s:

It was the first time I ever saw soapstone. I carried a baby in my amauti with another small child in tow just to watch him carve all day long and to learn from him. Then, when I held in my hands what he had made, I was amazed. . . . Every day I would do this . . . until his carving was completed. . . .I then asked for a piece of soapstone. He agreed, and gave me a piece to try. I carved that first piece of stone as a learning piece at home, while my husband was at work. I really wanted to learn how to carve. When my husband was due to come home for his tea break, I would hide the carving, because I was embarrassed by it. As soon as he left, I would start carving again. . . . I’m not sure how many days it took me to complete the carving, trying very hard to make it into the perfect likeness . . . of a seal. Then I sold it to the Hudson’s Bay Company. . . .I was paid two dollars for it, and because everything in the store sold for twenty-five or fifty cents, I was able to buy a lot of stuff.

MEDIA

Sculpture, drawings, printmaking, basketry, wall hangings, and sewing.

THEMES

Although Meeko experimented with abstract compositions in her prints, she is best known for realistic portrayals of women, children, and domestic scenes. Her sculptural work in particular focusses on the subject of mother and child, which are well suited to the rounded, voluminous contours of Meeko’s stonework.

SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS

An ambassador for her community, Meeko travelled throughout Nunavik to learn new skills and to share her knowledge with others. She also travelled to the South on several occasions and was invited to give sewing demonstrations at the McCord Museum in Montreal in 1989. She had also been to Europe twice and won first prize in the “figurative expression” category at the international snow sculpture competition in Rovaniemi, Finland with her husband, Noah. In 1993, she was featured in Keeping Our Stories Alive: The Sculpture of Canada’s Inuit, alongside Ovilu Tunnillie, in a video produced by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.
Tragically, Meeko died from smoke inhalation after unsuccessfully trying to rescue her husband from a house fire in 2004.

ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT

Working primarily as a carver throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Meeko began her foray into printmaking in the early 1970s. In 1972, she and her husband, Noah, were chosen by the Kuujjuarapik Cooperative to attend a seven-week printmaking workshop delivered by artist Bob Paterson in Puvirnituq. Paterson describes the project as a “serious venture” and explains that:

The original idea in gathering together these eighteen artists from communities around the Northern coast was inspired by the Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec, for a “Print-Course.” It was to be an intensive seven week session to introduce the skills of print-making, namely stone-cut and “relief” prints, and the use of stencil techniques. They had been elected by their communities to attend, and would be expected to pass on to others what they had learned, as well as to set up a workshop of their own to continue making prints under the auspices of their local co-operative (Paterson 1972).

To her credit, two of Meeko’s prints were included in the introductory release of the Arctic Quebec print collection.

The following year Chin Kok Tan, a printmaker originally from Kuala Lampur, conducted a similar workshop in Kuujuaarapik with a select group of artists from across Arctic Quebec. Tan encouraged the participants to take advantage of the limitless possibilities offered by the silkscreen technique and saw the newly introduced medium as a way to foster “spontaneity . . . [and] encourage experimentation and give free reign to the artists’ imagination, emotion, and expression” (Myers [Mitchell] 1973). The resulting prints were highly original, vibrantly coloured compositions that consisted of an assortment of mythical creatures and human and animal forms. A breakthrough in terms of inventiveness and pushing the boundaries of what was typically produced in northern print shops, the prints were not popular with the southern market. Nonetheless, encouraged by her newfound skills, Meeko went on to become a “prolific and important contributor to the Arctic Quebec print collections of the 1970s (Craig 1995).”

In 1982, Meeko again participated in a printmaking workshop in Puvirnituq, this time organized by Werner Zimmermann, an artist and part-time consultant to that community’s print studio. In spite of Meeko’s goal to return to Kuujjuarapik, open a studio, teach students, and make prints, her only souvenir from this period is a print entitled Cutting Meat, which was included in the 1983 Puvirnituq print collection.

FIRST GAINED ATTENTION

Although Meeko began carving in the 1950s, her artwork didn’t reach a wide audience until much later in her life. Encouraged by her early successes, however, she recalls that after a slow start she was “making more and more carvings. I didn’t sleep well because I was busy earning so much money and I thought I could always sleep later . . .”

REFERENCES

Craig, Mary


1995 North American Women Artists in the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary. Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller, Eds. New York: Taylor & Francis.

La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec

1973 Arctic Quebec I and II Print Collections. Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.

Kunnuk, Simeonie


1997 “Lucy Meeko: ‘Only the mind can put something into motion,’” Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 12, no. 2 (Summer): 26–29.

Myers [Mitchell], Marybelle


1974 “L’Art de la Gravure au Nouveau-Québec,”

North/Nord

, vol. 21, no. 2 (March–April): 17–21.

Paterson, Bob

1972 “Introduction,” Arctic Quebec. Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.

Yanagi, Amy T.

1990 “Contemporary Inuit Sewing,” Threads Magazine, no. 27 (February–March): 62–63.