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