Date posted:  February 3, 2016

“Those who make drawings, even if they are not photographically correct, do it by recalling and feeling once more the old ways. We know that there are people who can make pictures in the Kadlunak’s (white people’s) way and are very good at it, but their pictures look as if they were made with a camera, they may be accurate in detail but not good to look at. We are content, we feel that perhaps our way is more difficult, but that our pictures are more sought after.” -Kananginak Pootoogook, 1973

Kananginak Pootoogook (1935-2010) Inuit, Summer Owl, lithograph, 1972, GM 14.1011
Kananginak Pootoogook (1935-2010)
Inuit, Summer Owl, lithograph,
1972, GM 14.1011 

Born in 1935 at Cape Dorset, located on the southern end of Baffin Island in Nunavut, the northernmost territory of Canada, Kananginak Pootoogook came of age alongside the introduction of printmaking to the Inuit. This synchronicity resulted in a 50-year career and his place as one of the first and finest Cape Dorset artists and printmakers.

Inuit culture had a long and strong tradition of graphic design, from incised scenes on ivory, bone, and horn, to carved amulets and tools. When artist and author James Houston suggested the idea of printmaking in 1957, it was a natural progression. Hired to promote and encourage Inuit art on Baffin Island as a revenue stream, he began working with Cape Dorset artists, including the young Pootoogook. They experimented with techniques and supplies until Houston returned from Japan with lessons learned from master printmaker Un’ichi Iratsuka.

Kananginak Pootoogook (1935-2010)
Inuit, Musk OX, lithograph,
1972, GM 14.1012 

A visible and recognizable influence was the adoption of signature “chops,” vertical symbols seen in Summer Owl and Musk Ox. The printing process, however, was the most profoundly affected. Instead of a single person executing every step, the communal division of labor was applied. The artist created the drawing; the printmaker prepared the image on the plate or other surface; and the printer physically transferred the image to paper.

In late 1959, the first catalogued collection of Cape Dorset prints was released. It included a work by Pootoogook, as did nearly every annual edition since. Unlike others, he often preferred to create his drawing and prepare it for printing, unwilling to leave interpretation to another. He worked across media including stencils, copper engravings, etchings, lithography, and stonecut—a method similar to lithography and invented in Cape Dorset.

Pootoogook’s career was critically acclaimed and garnered numerous honors, including the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Arts, and induction into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts. He was a pivotal figure in Inuit printmaking, and today his works are found in over 40 institutions across Canada and the United States. Thanks to the generosity of the late Dr. Irvin Braverman, Gilcrease Museum is one of them. Summer Owl and Musk Ox are important additions to the collection.