History of Print Making in the Northwest Territories

Mar 23, 2011   //   Blog, Product Story  //  No Comments

The technique of stonecut printmaking was first introduced to Canadian Arctic communities in 1957 by James Houston. A modified version of Japanese woodcut printing, the use of stone in this way is exclusive to Canada’s North. Several co-operatives were established expressly for artists to create prints. Inuit embraced this unique means to express their stories and culture, and the art market responded enthusiastically.

In Ulukhaktok (formally Holman), on Victoria Island, Father Henri Tardy, OMI, was looking for a project that would bring economic benefits to his Inuvialuit parishioners. He helped establish the Holman Eskimo Co-operative in 1961, and he encouraged prospective artists. With the change of the community name the Holman Eskimo Co-operative was renamed the Ulukahaktok Arts Centre.

At first, the Ulukhaktok artists experimented with sealskin stencils, shaved with Father Tardy’s own razor. The first 10 stencil prints were sent to the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council for review in 1963. In 1964, Northern Affairs sent arts advisor Barry Coomber to Ulukhaktok to teach stonecut techniques — the print style popularized by Houston-trained printmakers. Stone was readily available in Holman and far more practical than seal skin.

In 1965, Helen Kalvak, Victor Ekootak, Jimmy Memorana, Harry Egotak and William Kagyut created the first annual Holman print collection of 30 limited edition prints, which became an immediate market and artistic success. Over the years, different printmaking techniques have been used in the annual Ulukhaktok Art Centre collections. Between 1965 and 1976, stonecut was the exclusive method. Early prints featured strong shapes and a single bold monochrome colour – red, blue, black or brown. John Rose, print shop manager, introduced lithography in 1977 and stencil printing in 1980. Woodcuts were tried in the 1980s, but proved impractical. Since 1986, annual releases by the Holman artists have included both stencils and lithography. The ability of Ulukhaktok artists to change, develop, and adapt has allowed their production to continue and remain vibrant for over 40 years. Artists are now well-known for the unique Ulukhaktok graphic spirit — detailed, naturalistic depictions produced through delicate tonal gradations and the depiction of spatial depth.

In 2001, the Winnipeg Art Gallery staged “Holman: Forty years of Graphic Art”, an exhibition that recognized a truly remarkable collection of artists and their work.

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