Sa­monie Toonoo

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Kyra Vla­dykov Fisher

It isn’t un­usual prac­tice in the North to com­mis­sion art­work. Fre­quently, bur­geon­ing col­lec­tors might see a piece they like by a cer­tain artist and re­quest that a sim­i­lar work be cre­ated. I had a dif­fer­ent rea­son: I wanted a piece that was unique. When I lived in Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, in 2006, I wanted to give my friend Harry a spe­cial present for Christ­mas. Since he was from cow­boy coun­try, I de­cided to com­mis­sion a lo­cal artist to carve a horse for him. De­spite the dif­fi­culty of com­mis­sion­ing and the risk that it might not work out, I was re­solved. Chris Pud­lat, the buyer at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op­er­a­tive, rec­om­mended Sa­monie Toonoo (1969–2017) be­cause he had pre­vi­ously done nice carv­ings of cari­bou. Artist Sa­monie Toonoo comes from an il­lus­tri­ous fam­ily of carvers. His sis­ter Oviloo Tun­nil­lie, RCA (1949–2014) was a fa­mous carver, and his brother Ju­tai (1959–2015) was also mak­ing a name for him­self at the time. But the only carv­ings I had ever seen by him were hip-hop priests, Grim Reapers and the like. I had never seen his cari­bou—and he had never seen a horse! Still, I ap­proached him and he agreed. I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly when I re­quested the piece, per­haps around the beginning of Novem­ber. But soon it was get­ting close to Christ­mas and there was still no sign of Harry’s present. When I saw the artist, he told me that he was work­ing on the horse, but it was not yet fin­ished. I asked if I could have a look at it, so we drove up the hill to his place. The liv­ing room was a dis­as­ter—it was his carv­ing room. There was no fur­ni­ture, just stone, dust and tools. In one cor­ner of the room, on the floor, lay a plas­tic model of a horse; he must have been us­ing it to get the form and pro­por­tions. His un­fin­ished piece had the ba­sic horse form, but needed to be re­fined. Christ­mas came and went, and still I had no gift for Harry. Shortly af­ter, I ran into the artist, who told me that the horse had bro­ken. In fact, he told me that he had bought sev­eral pieces of stone and they had all bro­ken. At that point, I was re­signed to never be­ing able to give Harry his horse.

Then about a month later, the artist told me he was work­ing on another horse that was al­most fin­ished. The fol­low­ing Mon­day, I hap­pened to go into the co-op and there, to my sur­prise, I saw a sculp­ture with the body of a horse and a Manx-like tail. It stood up­right and there were no ears. Its face was hu­man, sport­ing pro­trud­ing tusks that gave it the ap­pear­ance of a warthog. The mane was a piece of black rab­bit fur, glued down the length of its neck. I was some­what taken aback be­cause here was what I thought was Harry’s horse, but it had been sold to the co-op. I was wor­ried if I did not buy this horse, I might never get another, so I bought the carv­ing. I loved it be­cause it was unique and so ex­pres­sive. I did not want to part with it. How­ever, I felt hon­our-bound to give it to Harry, un­til a week later I saw Sa­monie Toonoo, who told me that he was go­ing to be bring­ing me the horse! And he did. Shortly af­ter, he came to my of­fice with a yel­low co-op bag, and in­side, fi­nally, was Harry’s horse! In the end, since I had two horses, I de­cided to keep the cre­ative one for my­self named in hon­our of Harry and proudly dis­played to re­flect the artist’s orig­i­nal and unique vi­sion.

About a month later, the artist told me he was work­ing on another horse that was al­most fin­ished. The fol­low­ing Mon­day, I hap­pened to go into the co-op and there, to my sur­prise, I saw a sculp­ture with the body of a horse and a Manx-like tail.

PHOTOS OWEN MELENKA

Sa­monie Toonoo (1969–2017 Kin­ngait) — Harry’s Horse 2007 Steatite, ivory and fur 16.5 × 25.4 × 6.4 cm

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