Title: The Enchanted Owl
Object Name: Print
Artist/Maker/Manufacturer/Founder: Kenojuak Ashevak
Material/Medium/Support: Stonecut in Red, Blue, and Black on Laid Paper
Earliest Production Date and Latest Production Date: 1960
Dimension (H x W x D in centimetres): 61 x 66.1 cm; Image 37 x 58.5 cm (maximum irregular)
Accession #: 9577
Institution Name: National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Dating from 1960, The Enchanted Owl is one of the first prints created by the Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak. A traditional Inuk woman, Ashevak was introduced to printmaking when she left a nomadic camp life to settle in Cape Dorset in Canada’s North. She joined the West Baffin Island Print Co-operative and learned to work with a team of stone-cutters and printmakers to bring her drawings to life. The owl is one of Ashevak’s favourite subjects. Notice its crisp, flowing lines, the whimsical feathers and the bold contrast of the colourful design against the white paper. To create The Enchanted Owl, the design was transferred to a block of stone. Next a stone-cutter chipped away all the areas where no ink should go. Then, various colours of ink were applied to the flat surfaces that remained. Finally, a sheet of paper was laid over the stone and the print was pulled. 50 prints were made of Ashevak’s The Enchanted Owl. Half were printed in black, blue and red inks, the other half in black, blue and green inks. As the prints were pulled, the colours began to blend and change slightly from print to print, making each a unique masterpiece.
Kenojuak Ashevak’s drawings, prints and sculpture express her understanding of the world through unique imagery. Her early work is filled with images of camp life, people, animals, and for what Kenojuak is renowned: fantastical birds that reveal her ability to capture the essence of her subjects in simple forms. Reproduced on a postage stamp in 1970 to commemorate the centennial of the Northwest Territories, Kenojuak’s “The Enchanted Owl” has become an icon of Canadian art. In contrast to the delicate web of forms she created on other occasions, this image shows the artist taking quite a different approach to “pleasing her eye.” Here, the focus is given to a single, boldly designed emblematic figure.