Born in 1951, Peter Morgan’s early years were spent on the Ungava coast. He moved to Port Nouveau-Québec (later George River, now Kangiqsualujjuaq) with his family in the late 1950s.
Morgan began sculpting using imported stone when he was 12 years old. He learned by watching his father, Joseph. In his early twenties, Morgan was introduced to printmaking by his father-in-law, Tivi Etook, who had participated in a 1972 printmaking workshop in Puvirnituq. In the mid-to-late 1970s, Morgan began to experiment with carving caribou bone and antler.
Morgan finds inspiration in stories from oral legends, which incorporate animals, humans, and spirits. Inuit culture and aspects of the land have also been strong influences, as have his dreams and imagination. The shapes of the caribou antler segments Morgan uses for his carvings are themselves an artistic influence: “His approach to engraving shows deep respect for the original form of the antler . . . He also plays with the antlers’ capricious shapes. Sometimes his figures mould themselves to fit the sharp antler tips or outgrowths” (Gagnon 1995:10).
Throughout the course of his artistic career, Morgan has produced stonecut prints and made carvings in stone, bone, and antler. Given the general unavailability of carvingstone in the Ungava region, Morgan (like other Kangiqsualujjuaq carvers) has specialized in working with caribou antler. The massive George River caribou herd, which migrates through the region annually, supplies enormous quantities of antler both as a by-product of hunting and through annual shedding of the antlers (Wight 2007:37). Morgan works with antler fragments, the skullcap of the caribou and, occasionally, full sets of antlers. His carvings often incorporate other materials, such as leather string, caribou bone, muskox horn, plastic, walrus tusk, sinew, baleen, and horn.
Morgan uses an assortment of tools for his carving, including a flexible-shaft drill equipped with interchangeable bits: “He . . . prefers caribou antlers because they are softer to work with than moose, which is very hard and wears out his drill bits faster. He also prefers it to stone. . . . Antler creates less dust and is easier on his drill bits” (Gagnon 1995:10). Whenever he signs his work, Morgan includes two footprints of the quputalik (white-crowned sparrow), small birds he loved to watch as a child.
Discussing the earlier lack of popularity of antler carvings, Louis Gagnon notes (1995:8): “There was considerable repetition in the themes used and, when rare departures were made, they were often reworked to the point of becoming stock copies. Near production-line manufacturing of small, decorative pieces was the norm, rather than expressive works requiring research, personal vision and inspiration. All the more reason that artists like Peter Morgan should be applauded for their effort to effect a change in scale, tackling a full set of antlers and experimenting with different materials and techniques.”
In 1976 Morgan became the second Inuit artist to publish a solo print collection. In 1993 his first solo exhibition of caribou antler carvings opened at Aux Multiples Collections Inc., a gallery in Quebec City. In 2010 an art collective comprised of Morgan, Bobby Annanack, Peter Willie Morgan, Jamie Morgan, and Peter Joseph Annanack — all from Kangiqsualujjuaq — was awarded the second annual Nunavik Fund for Arts and Literature grant for Visual Arts (Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec 2010).
Morgan’s style has evolved over the course of his career. Ingo Hessel (1998:121) describes his works as displaying “a playful attitude,” a characteristic of much Inuit folk art, and one that is evident in many of Morgan’s earlier figures made from antler, as well as in selections from his 1976 solo print collection. Morgan first achieved recognition as a printmaker, but abruptly changed his focus when he lost the use of the building that had served as a shared studio. After some initial experimentation with carvingstone and bone, he turned his attention to caribou antler. His early antler works tended to be three-dimensional carved figures; later he began to carve an outline or profile of animals, humans and creatures on the surface of antler fragments. Narrative or storytelling is a common element throughout much of his art — from prints depicting stories or parts of legends, to the carving of small figures and hunting scenes, to the more elaborate narratives carved on antler fragments or full sets of antlers.
Morgan first gained attention with his 1976 solo print collection, which consisted of 17 stonecut prints, each accompanied by a caption or story/legend fragment, and was published by La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec (FCNQ).
Following the 1976 publication of his solo print collection, Morgan’s works have appeared in more than 20 group exhibitions internationally and have become part of the permanent collections of several institutions, including the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
2010 “Grant Recipients, second edition of the Nunavik Fund for Arts and Literature.” Montreal, June 1, 2010. www.calq.gouv.qc.ca (accessed July 2010).
1976 Peter Morgan. Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.
1995 “Gift of the Caribou: Peter Morgan,” Inuit Art Quarterly, (IAQ), vol. 10, no. 2 (Summer): 4–12.
1998 Inuit Art: An Introduction. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.
1999 “I Always Wanted to Carve an Elephant,” Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 14, no. 1 (Spring): 52.
2007 “Antler into Art,” Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 22, no. 1 (Spring): 36–37.