PORT HARRISON/INOUCDJOUAC SCULPTURE
A curatorial analysis of work in Port Harrison/Inoucdjouac, an exhibition held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) in 1976. The curatorial analysis was written by Jean Blodgett, curator of Eskimo art at WAG, and published by WAG in 1977.
Paulosie Kasadluak in his essay for this catalogue states that the carvers of Inoucdjouac show the truth in their sculptures; they do not carve make believe things. Certainly the works included in this exhibition substantiate his claim that the sculptors show life as they have lived it. (1)
An analysis of the subject matter of the Port Harrison sculptures in the present exhibition reveals that the majority of works illustrate the following: animals; fish; birds; people, particularly the mother or father and child; and such everyday activities as hunting, sewing, scraping skins, cleaning fish and skinning animals. The carvings are done with an understanding of the subject and an eye for the truthful detail. The carvers, in illustrating the animals and activities, demonstrate their knowledge of anatomy as well as a real understanding of the habits and characteristics of the beings - both animal and Inuit - who inhabit their world.
However, some of the carvings from Inoucdjouac are not representations of the workaday world. A small number of the sculptures depict the spiritual, the legendary, or the mythological. At least for the older carvers, such creatures as giants and goddesses were a real part of their life as they lived it in the past. As Marybelle Myers points out in her article in this catalogue (In the Wake of the Giant), Inoucdjouac itself is associated with the legend of the Giant; (2) one episode of which is illustrated in the carving Eskimo Killing a Giant (1959) by Simon Mukimuk.
Transformations of man into animal and animal into man can also occur as Joanassie Nawkawalk illustrates in Bird Man Holding Goose (c. 1963) and Merman with Seal. Sometimes such changes had significant results - as in the case of Sedna, or Taleelayo, the sea goddess. Rather elaborate myths about this goddess abound throughout the North. The following is a brief précis.
Sedna, as a young girl, would not acquiesce to any of her suitors, but finally agreed to marry a petrel who took her away to his village. When her father came to visit, Sedna who was unhappy with the petrel, asked to be taken home. However, when she and her father started the journey back in his boat, the petrel caused a heavy gale. In order to protect himself, the father threw Sedna overboard. As she clung to the edge of his boat he cut off her fingers joint by joint. The joints, as they fell into the water, were transformed into whales, seals and ground seals and Sedna herself went to live in the lower world. (3)
Transformed into a mermaid with a single long braid of hair, Sedna, as the animals' protectress, lives at the bottom of the sea from whence she sends forth the animals of the sea. In times of poor hunting it was believed that Sedna, displeased with the Eskimo people, would not release these sea animals to be hunted. When Sedna withheld the supply of animals, thus causing want and famine, it was the function of the shaman to visit her and attempts to persuade her to release the animals so that the men could again be successful in the hunt.
The shaman, who ministered to the physical and mental well-being of his fellow Eskimos and who acted as a go-between with the spiritual world, played a major role in the traditional society. A shaman may be represented in Shaman or Devil. (4) More significant however is the carving entitled Man Holding Four Heads by Lucassie Nowyakudluk. This carving, in comparison with the others in this exhibition, is less obvious in its subject matter and meaning.
No everyday activities or explanations come readily to mind to indicate why this man should have four human heads stacked in a small totem in front of him. Several Eskimo legends, most particularly the Qiviuq legend, tell of people who store human heads in their home, usually after having eaten the body to which the head belongs. But in these legends, the person who keeps the heads is invariably a woman; not a man as we have illustrated in the carving. (5) However the position of the man's hands could suggest stacking and perhaps this figure too is a collector of heads.
Another possible interpretation for this work is suggested by an amulet collected by Lucien Turner when he was in the Ungava district (Fort Chimo area) in the early 1880's. He describes a small amulet worn on the back of a woman's coat as follows:
It is a small block of wood carved into four human heads. These heads represent four famous conjurers noted for their skill in driving away diseases. The woman who came from the eastern shore of Hudson's bay, was troubled with rheumatism and wore this charm from time to time as she felt the twinges of pain. She assured me that the pain always disappeared in a few hours when she wore it. It was with the greatest difficulty that I persuaded her to part with it. She was, however, about to return home, and could get another there. (6)
It is significant that the amulet belonged to a woman from the east side of Hudson's Bay (the present settlement of Port Harrison is on the east coast) and that the woman's amulet had four faces (as does the sculpture). Certainly, the present sculpture is not amulet like in its size or design (it has a sculptural base and no means of suspension) and would hardly function as such. It may however represent older ideas and beliefs inspired by tales and stories of the past. Such an oral relationship with past beliefs may account for yet another possible interpretation.
As already noted, the sculpture (and the amulet) have four faces represented on them. The number four has been recorded to have special significance for the Eskimos, possessing some mystic virtue. The special quality of four was associated with various rituals and taboos. (7) One ritual with which the number four may have been associated was that of head-lifting. This technique, which involved lifting and feeling the weight of the head (whether the head felt heavy or light determined the answer to the question), was often used by the shaman to help divine the cause of illness. (8) The usual method was to pass a strap or thong around the head of the recumbent person by which a second person lifted the head up and down.
Needless to say, the heads in our carving are unattached to bodies and are not being lifted by a thong. Yet it is entirely possible that the carving represents, in a symbolic manner, ritualistic behavior from the past. The man's hands, as has been previously mentioned, clasp the heads as though he were lifting or stacking them. Without benefit of an exact interpretation, it would nevertheless appear that this carving denotes a spiritually meaningful and significant subject.
Noteworthy in this exhibition, and in the other texts which include a number of Port Harrison sculptures, is the fact that so few of the works illustrate religious, spiritual or legendary subject matter. A comparison with the works, both sculptural and graphic, from other settlements such as Cape Dorset or Baker Lake; or even from Povungnituk, Port Harrison's nearest neighboring settlement, will show that the Port Harrison carvers tend to concentrate on subjects which are not associated with the spiritual. As we have already observed the majority of carvings in this exhibition represent objects of the real world, not ideas or beliefs. Myers, in her article in this catalogue, discusses the apparent influence of an uneasy relationship between Eskimo and non-Eskimo in Port Harrison on the type of art produced there. (9) In the production of sculpture, the old ideas are suppressed, surfacing sometimes subtly, sometimes obviously, but most often not at all.
As indicated above, by far the most popular subjects for the Port Harrison carvers are wildlife and people. The latter provide the subjects for carving depicting the ubiquitous mother and child and such intimate scenes as a mother nursing her child or the very poignant and touching portrayal of a father and son (1954) by Akeeaktashuk - comparable to the painting of the Old Man With a Child by the Renaissance master Domenico del Ghirlandaio. Isa Kasudluak presents an Inuit couple standing together side by side on their small base. But in other instances his people are men on the hunt such as the Hunter and Bear (1961) and Hunter Pulling Seal (1961).
In fact, hunters and hunting scenes are another popular subject. An unidentified artist has shown a hunter intently poised over a seal's breathing hole and Samwillie Amidlak gives us a two-story view of the Hunter at a Seal's Breathing Hole in which he portrays the hunter ready on the ice, and below - for our benefit - a view beneath the ice, where the seal pushes his way up to his breathing hole. Sometimes the hunt involves some rather serious combat as we see in the carving by Jacob Echalook of the Man Battling a Bear (c. 1961). Charlie Inukpuk in his Bear Hunt (1961) presents a complex and lightly integrated sculpture conveying the confused, excited and fierce battle between the bear on one hand and the man and his dogs on the other.
Other works portray the successful hunters, such as the carving of the two men in Two Men with Fish who proudly display their catch; while the couple in the Domestic Scene undertake the task of cleaning their fish. Yet another sculpture represents a woman cleaning her catch of a goose. The carving, by Eli Weetaluktuk, is entitled Woman Pulling Intestines from a Goose (1953). This title conjures up gory images; none of which is realized in the carving itself. The stylized goose is wrapped around the lower part of the woman's body as she holds one end and pulls the intestines out with her teeth. The presentation, the technique, and the dark green stone, all combine to create an amazingly attractive and appealing image. In other instances the artists portray people involved in everyday activities such as icing the runners of the sled, stretching and scraping skins, or sewing. Several carvings by Timothy Kutchaka are concerned with such pursuits.
One type of human representation from Port Harrison deserves consideration. This is the portrait bust-like sculpture of humans. Sculptors from other settlements; for example, John Tiktak of Rankin Inlet (illus. 8 in Swinton's Sculpture of the Eskimo), Toona Erkoolik (illus. 666 in Swinton) and Matthew Akeeah (illus. 714 in Swinton) of Baker Lake have also carved single human heads, but no settlement has produced the number and variety equal to Port Harrison.
Such sculptures in this exhibition technically cannot be termed portrait busts since the style of representation - such as the unseeing eyes and generalized facial features - tends to be general rather than specific. It would appear that the sculpture is a portrait of a human being but not of a particular person. The one possible exception in the exhibition is the Man's Head by Sima Tuki in which the head is particularized by open eyes, full jowls, animated mouth, and the addition of a barely-visible moustache and goatee - indicated by shallow and slightly incised lines. Sima Tuki's Head is also characterized by a directness achieved by the open eyes and by the fact that the head is closer to the base. This is in contrast to the aloofness and distance, accentuated by the sightless eye, tight mouth and elevated position above the base, of the other three heads.
One other type of head is included in the exhibition - the doll's head. Although this doll's head is dated 1968, such stone heads were used in the past to complete the dolls of fabric or hide made for the Eskimo children. A comparison of the Doll's Head and the Man's Head by Peter Kasudluak suggests that the larger scale contemporary sculptures of heads may have their origin in the dolls' heads of the past.
Animals are another favourite subject for the carvers of Port Harrison. In fact, initially one of the most obvious and impressive aspects of the works from Port Harrison is the animals. Several sculptors represented in this exhibition carve arctic animals such as the hare, muskrat, bear or caribou and very successfully capture the animal's particular character. One carver, who specializes in sculptures of the wildlife, is Aculiak. His bears, intent on their prey or opponent, snarl, claw and bite; the hares, in a more playful attitude, strike quite humorous poses, peering out at the viewer, often with their ears back. In one carving, the alert muskrat stands staunchly on his four little legs with tail extended.
One of the animal carvings is a good example of the matter-of-factness with which the Eskimo dealt with his day-to-day existence on all levels - including the sexual. Bears Mating by Charlie Epoo deals with the facts of life in an unhibited manner, much as Marion Tuu'luq of Baker Lake in her wall hangings factually represents dogs relieving themselves. The dog crouches down in a characteristic pose and small brown dots appliqued to the hanging explain the dog's position. (10)
An equally popular subject taken from the surrounding wildlife is birds. In fact, birds and fish seem to be two subjects which are not only prevalent in Port Harrison; they are subjects with which the sculptors of this settlement excel. Several factors contribute to the success of these representations. One, already mentioned, is the sculptors impressive ability to capture the essence and characteristics of his particular subject - the hareness of the hare, the fishness of the fish. Another important factor is the stone. Paulosie Kasadluak in his article emphasizes the significance of the stone, especially the right kind of stone. The stone used in these sculptures is appealing in its own right, especially the rich green stone. Sometimes the marbled green stone with orange highlights virtually overpowers the subject matter. But the artists included in the exhibition, who work with this particular stone, have utilized the richness and succeeded in integrating the stone and the subject so that the richness of the former enhances the latter; for example the Sea Pigeon (1954/55) by Cornelius Niviaxie, the Fish (1956) by Lucassie Kumarluk and most especially the Head (1957) by Abraham Nastapoka.
The Kumarluk Fish illustrates several other particular features of Port Harrison carvings. One is the "serrated" edge along the back of the fish to indicate the fins. Such sharp uneven edges are sometimes used in juxtaposition with an otherwise smooth and polished surface for varying effects. For example the feathers at the base of the spread wings in the Owl by Joe Adlikit Aculiak and the top edge and tail of the Mud Fish by Aculiak.
The other characteristic feature of the Fish is the inlay work. Incised holes and lines are filled in with soap or other malleable - and usually white or off-white - materials. In the Kumarluk Fish the eyes, gills and speckles on the fish are indicated by such inlay. Many other sculptures have the same kind of embellishment. Another Port Harrison carving technique is mentioned by James Houston in his article for this catalogue - the ivory inlay. Ivory may be utilized to fill in areas in order to create highlights such as the eyes or teeth. Sometimes the entire face of an otherwise stone sculpture will be of inset ivory.
Sometimes the carvings are incised but the incising is shallower and not filled in with soap. Such incisions are usually more delicate and are utilized where greater subtlety is desired. Such is the case with the facial hair on the Man's Head, the duck's wings in Man Licking Duck (c. 1957) by Levi Kam and the hair on the woman's head and on the trim on her parka in Akeeaktashuk's Mother and Child (1953), the muskrat's whiskers in Aculiak's Muskrat (c. 1963), and the woman's hair in Women Sewing Boot (1954). Other incised lines of varying depth are used to indicate different textures of women's hair as in Abraham Nastapoka's Head (1957) and Joanassie Nawkawalk's Woman with Fish 1962). Sometimes the incised lines are slightly deeper and closely spaced to represent men's hair as in Lucassie Nowyakudluk's Man Holding Four Heads and on Nawkawalk's Merman with Seal. Very deep incising is utilized to indicate wrinkles and creases in clothing such as on the sleeves of the hunter by Timothy Kutchaka and on the sleeves and mid-drift of the two figures in Akeeaktashuk's Father and Son. In other areas the deeply incised lines indicate fish fins or the feather structure of birds as on the back of Daniel Inukpuk's Owl with Three Young (1964) and Samson Kingalik's Hawk Holding Goose by Neck (c. 1962), or on the end of the drawn wings of the Bird by Noah Echalook. The latter, in the stone, pose and technique epitomizes the elegant and attractive carvings of birds from Port Harrison.
An unusual utilization of incising are the small gouges on the Loon (1957) by Lucassie Nuktialuk. A sharp, pointed implement has been used to make small incisions in the stone. These tiny holes reveal the grey stone underneath the polished exterior. The grey dots on the darker area simulate the speckled quality of the birds' coloration. In other carvings, unworked areas are left to contrast with the polished surfaces. Very often the rougher area is the ground upon which the subject rests as in the Falcon on Rocky Base by Aibilie Echalook or in the Eskimo Killing a Giant. In one instance the unpolished area represents an unscraped skin. In contrast to the rough areas of unworked stone are the highly polished surfaces. The green stone particularly lends itself to a high sheen. Another polishing technique was to apply black shoe polish to a grey-colored stone in order to give it a deeper, richer tone. This application is especially noticeable on the Owl with Three Young by Daniel Inukpuk. (11)
Carvings such as the Domestic Scene (c. 1956, unknown artist), the Man in Kayak (unknown artist), or Charlie Inukpuk's Bear Hunt (1961) are indicative of the detail and complexity of Port Harrison carvings. Great time and care have been taken with these works (notice for example the two small feet on the underside of the bird in flight in a sculpture titled Bird [1954/55] by Allie Samsak). All the sculptures in this exhibition - with the exception of the Doll's Head (1968, unknown artist) - date from the period between 1951 to 1964 and exemplify the outstanding carvings from what could be considered the classic phase of Port Harrison sculpture. (12)
Another characteristic of the art works in the current exhibition is the fact that in all the cases where the artist has been identified, the sculptor is a male. No female stone carvers are represented. This does not mean, however, that there are no women carvers in Port Harrison. There are, but they are in a minority; particularly it would seem, in the 1950's and early 60's. One significant factor that probably contributed to this discrepancy is the fact that in the 1950's, it was the men who came into the settlement from the outlying camps. (13) Carvings done by the women in the camps would have been sold by the men when they came to the settlement and were purposely or inadvertently construed as work by the men. However, several considerations indicate that the traditional division of labour has continued in the Port Harrison area and that women do not do much stone work. Paulosie Kasadluak himself in his catalogue refers to the work done by women as distinct from stone carving; the women do such crafts as sewing and weaving grass baskets. (14) Although baskets are now made for the southern market, originally they were used by the Eskimos themselves. (15) Such is not the case with two unusual items in the exhibition which show definite southern influence - the Walrus and Dog Book Ends by Aculiak and the Ash Tray (1954, unknown artist). The latter, functional but too sculptural to use, the former attractive, but impossible to use because the ends are permanently fixed at a distance of about half an inch apart. (16)
The Ash Tray is raised on a pedestal or base very similar to the one holding up the model of Pauloosie's Stone Lamp (c. 1961) - in spite of the fact that a single central foot is not the normal means of supporting a functional lamp. The portrait heads in the exhibition also rise on bases. This type of pedestal base may not be unique to Inoucdjouac, but it does seem more prevalent here. (17) However, the actual fact that there are such pedestals is not, perhaps, as important as what they signify. This particular singling out of a subject, of elevating it, is indicative of a particular orientation in Port Harrison works. All the sculptures in the exhibition have a definite upright orientation. That is, whether the actual work is a horizontal or vertical composition, the subject matter is always oriented right side up and in none of the works is there a composite viewpoint. All the items represented are placed in the same upright direction and rest with their bases toward one particular, gravity-oriented, ground area. (18)
This single, one-point, orientation is unlike the art work of various other Eskimo areas. One of the salient features of Eskimo art, whether historic or prehistoric, is the presentation of multiple views within one image. The multiple viewpoint may occur in both two and three dimensional representations. (19) Numerous examples of multiple viewpoints in contemporary sculpture and graphics can be found in the artistic production of settlements across the Hudson's Bay from Port Harrison, in such places as Eskimo Point, Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake. (20)
Multiple viewpoints in sculpture or graphic work may be utilized to indicate in one composition a combination of several separate events or objects or one person at different times. That is, a time sequence or passage of time or separate simultaneous events may be represented in the one work. However just as the Port Harrison sculptures are oriented in only one direction, so too do they present only one subject, incident or time. None of the works represent multiple events nor do they represent a time sequence. Even the action scenes are incidental, portraying one isolated event, not an event as part of a time continuum.
The sculptures from Port Harrison not only have a basic upright, singular orientation, they are also characterized by a unified, tight composition and form. The works tend to be solid and uniformly stone, rather than airy sculptures, punctuated by areas of space. The works rely on the single stone mass with very little play on the positive/negative space around or within the sculpture. (21) Many of the sculptures in the exhibition are characterized by a roundness and fullness of form. No sharp, discordant angles disturb the unified forms. Just as the subject matter is of the usual and the everyday, so the form is solid and regulated. Neither the subject nor its treatment is arresting or strikingly unusual - except for the success with which the artists truthfully and beautifully convey it.
1. As do the Port Harrison sculptures illustrated in the Sculpture/Inuit catalogue and in George Swinton's book Sculpture of the Eskimo. These two books are the only other sources which provide a substantial number of illustrations of sculpture from Port Harrison. The latter is particularly helpful in that the works are grouped together by settlement.
2. See also "The Giant and the Man" in Zebedee Nungak and Eugene Arima, Eskimo Stories, The National Museums of Canada, Bulletin No. 235 (Ottawa: The Queen's Printer, 1969), pp.1-5.
3. For full accounts of the Sedna myth see; for example, Franz Boas, The Central Eskimo (Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 1964); Franz Boas The Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay, American Museum of Natural History, Bulletin XV, pt. 1 and 2 (New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1901·7): and Edward Moffat Weyer The Eskimos (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1932).
4. This work, from the Twomey Collection, is catalogued as a shaman or devil. Various factors, including the facial features and expression as well as the horns, would indicate that he is the latter.
5. See Boas, The Eskimo of Baffin Land and Hudson Bay, pp. 183 and 255.
6. Lucien M. Turner, "Ethnology of the Ungava District," Bureau of American Ethnology, 11th Annual Report (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1844), pp. 201-2.
7. See Weyer, The Eskimos, p. 318 and Jean Blodgett Multiple Human Images in Eskimo Sculpture (Unpublished Master's thesis, University of British Columbia, 1974), pp. 70·3.
8. Blodgett, Multiple Human Images, p. 78.
9. Margery Hinds in School-House in the Arctic (London: Geoffrey Bles Ltd., 1958), pp. 190-1, mentions several incidents which indicate an uneasy relationship between the two groups in the settlement; once when she thought an Eskimo family had loosed their dogs on her and another when several boys were shooting in her direction with a .22 rifle. William E. Willmott in The Eskimo Community at Port Harrison, P.Q. (Ottawa: Northern Coordination and Research Centre, 1961) also refers to the Eskimo-white situation. One particularly revealing incident occurred in the summer of 1957 "when the R.C.M.P. constable at Port Harrison ordered all Eskimos who were not employed by white establishments to leave the settlement." p.17.
10. See for example illustration 26 in Jean Blodgett, Tuu'luq; Anguhodluq, Exhibition Catalogue (Winnipeg: The Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1976).
11. Works that have been darkened with shoe polish can sometimes be quite difficult to distinguish from those of untreated stone, especially if the entire surface, including the bottom of the base, is covered and if the stone is porous enough to allow the polish to meld with it. The Owl with three Young is obviously shoe polished. The use of shoe polish has been discontinued.
12. As Myers points out in her article the quality of carving done in Port Harrison has declined in the last while.
13. See James Houston in this catalogue and in "Eskimo Sculptors," The Beaver (June, 1951), as well as Margery Hinds.
14. Few Port Harrison women artists are identified in the Sculpture/Inuit catalogue, in Swinton Sculpture of the Eskimo, or in the Winnipeg Art Gallery Collections. In the Twomey Collection alone, of the 75 artists catalogued, 4 are women, 2 of whom have also resided in Povingnituk. Other settlements such as Baker Lake or Cape Dorset have a proportionally greater number of women artists.
15. Marybelle Myers, "A Time for Catching Caribou and a Time for Making Clothes" in Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, Crafts from Arctic Canada, Exhibition Catalogue (Ottawa: Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, 1974), p. 30.
16. Presumably book ends in a mail-order catalogue were the model for this sculpture. Such illustrations show the book ends quite close together (to save space) and Aculiak, unacquainted with their actual function, placed his close together too.
17. This, of course, does not include flat bases.
18. On the basis of existing documentation, the only exception to this orientation is the 1951 sculpture Eskimo Recollection (illus. 213 in Sculpture/Inuit) by an unknown Inoucdjouac artist. In this work the animals are oriented to a circular ground line all the way around the central circle. This piece is quite unusual in the Port Harrison oeuvre.
19. For a discussion of this characteristic see Edmund Carpenter, Frederick Varley and Robert Flaherty, Eskimo (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1959) and George Swinton, "Eskimo Art Reconsidered," artscanada, no. 162/163 (December, 1971/ January, 1972), 85·94.
20. For an example of multiple viewpoints in sculpture see Henry Napartuk (illus. 326 in Sculpture/Inuit) or John Tiktak (illus. 400 in Sculpture/Inuit) and for graphics see Luke Anguhadluq in Blodgett, Tuu'luq/Anguhadluq.
21. In Port Harrison sculpture, most often the interaction between positive and negative space occurs quite naturally in the space around or between extremities or in the space between parts of the figure and a base. Rarely, if ever, does the artist create open work within the actual sculptural mass. Note, however, the circular hole in the center of the sculpture Eskimo Recollection (illus. 213 in Sculpture/ Inuit).
Winnipeg Art Gallery