Legacy carved in stone
Tuberculosis patients’ Inuit art donated to Hamilton art gallery.
In one carefully carved piece, an Inuit boy cradles a seal pup; in another piece, dark ink lines weave across a canvas, giving form to four birds. These works of Inuit art are just a small sample of a 132-piece collection of sculptures and prints recently donated to Ontario’s Art Gallery of Hamilton.
The collection’s history is equally compelling: The pieces were created by Inuit from the eastern Arctic who were sent to Hamilton to be treated for tuberculosis in the 1950s and 1960s. More than 1,300 patients were treated at Hamilton’s Mountain Sanitarium during that period. Patients sold the art for spending money; artworks that didn’t sell were stored for decades at the sanitarium, which later became Chedoke Hospital (now part of Hamilton Health Sciences). Well-known Inuit artists included in the collection are Kenojuak Ashevak, Guy Mamatiaq, Moses Meeko, Noona, Alivaktak Petaloosie, Simon POV, Mikisiti Saila, and Kanayuk Tukalak.
An anonymous donor recently purchased the collection and donated it to the art gallery. Hamilton Health Sciences officials said the proceeds of the purchase will be used to provide better services and care for “Indigenous patients and their families” in the Hamilton region.
The gallery plans a major exhibition of the collection in 2017.
Two Inuit men carve sculptures while undergoing treatment for tuberculosis, in Hamilton, Ontario, circa 1950-1960.