Pa­per Trail: An In­ter­view with Eric Anoee Jr. on the Early Draw­ings of Eric Anoee Sr.

Pa­per Trail: An In­ter­view with Eric Anoee Jr. on the Early Draw­ings of Eric Anoee Sr.

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Kather­ine Pet­ti­pas and John Geoghe­gan

A lit­tle-known cache of draw­ings pro­duced in the 1930s by Eric Anoee Sr. found its way into the Man­i­toba Mu­seum. In this in­ter­view, Eric Anoee Jr. and cu­ra­tor emer­i­tus Dr. Kather­ine Pet­ti­pas dis­cuss the dis­cov­ery and what the images re­veal about life in Arviat and the his­tory of draw­ing within Inuit art.

In the fol­low­ing in­ter­view, con­ducted by Inuit Art Quar­terly

Se­nior Editor John Geoghe­gan,

Eric Anoee Jr. shares his in­sights on a lit­tle-known cache of draw­ings pro­duced by his late fa­ther,

Eric Anoee Sr., CM (1924–1989), now held at the Man­i­toba Mu­seum in Win­nipeg. It is in­tro­duced with a fore­word by Dr. Kather­ine Pet­ti­pas, cu­ra­tor emer­i­tus with the mu­seum, who has been un­der­tak­ing re­search on this unique col­lec­tion. Dur­ing my years as a cu­ra­tor at the Man­i­toba Mu­seum, I had the privilege of work­ing with many col­lec­tions that orig­i­nated in In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in Canada. Among my favourites are the draw­ings of a young Eric Anoee Sr. This unique col­lec­tion con­sists of hun­dreds of care­fully drawn scenes that to­day ser ve as a record of life on the land in the Arviat area, as viewed through the eyes of a teenager, ren­dered in pen­cil and crayon. Anoee’s place in the his­tory of Inuit art is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause he is the first doc­u­mented Inuk to pro­duce art in the West­ern tra­di­tion for his own en­joy­ment and for the Euro-Cana­dian mar­ket, as early as the 1940s.

In 1926, the Rev­erend Don­ald B. Marsh es­tab­lished an

Angli­can mis­sion at Ar viat (then Eskimo Point), NU. Marsh and his wife, Winifred, worked among the Paal­lir­miut and other Ki­val­lir­miut (Cari­bou Inuit) com­mu­ni­ties un­til 1946. Winifred had for­mal art train­ing and in her spare time she drew and painted. Her hus­band ac­quired a large num­ber of arte­facts and items of Inuit ma­te­rial, which were loaned and later sold to the Man­i­toba Mu­seum.

Eric Anoee Sr. be­came ac­quainted with Winifred Marsh in the late 1930s at the mis­sion school at Ar viat. She vividly re­called the young­ster’s first in­di­ca­tion of in­ter­est in art:

“Anoee saw me sketch­ing and he said, ‘I can do that.’ So, I said, ‘Well, okay,’ and I gave him pen­cils and crayons and things, and off he went. Next spring, when he came in, he pro­duced this book; he had this book with all these draw­ings in it… . He was then just a teenager or just bor­der­ing on teenager.”

Winifred en­cour­aged Anoee’s in­ter­est in art and sup­plied him with note­books and other scraps of pa­per—a pre­cious com­mod­ity, ev­i­denced by the fact that each page is filled with nu­mer­ous draw­ings. Land­scapes, peo­ple, hous­ing, trans­porta­tion, food-gath­er­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and an­i­mals—es­pe­cially cari­bou—ap­pear in a highly re­al­is­tic style. Views of the Ar viat area in the late 1930s, in­clud­ing the mis­sions, the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany post and por­tray­als of nonIndige­nous peo­ple, pro­vide in­sight into the changes that were oc­cur­ring at this time. For­tu­nately, Anoee left be­hind a rich record of later draw­ings and writ­ings that com­ple­ment his early illustrations.

En­cour­aged by lo­cal traders, Anoee re­ceived art sup­plies and be­gan to sell his pic­tures. He also worked for the church as a reader, a dea­con and as a highly val­ued trans­la­tor/lan­guage teacher. Anoee’s hopes for preser ving and pro­mot­ing the core val­ues and cul­ture of Inuit were re­al­ized in 1974 with the es­tab­lish­ment of the Inuit Cul­tural In­sti­tute in Ar viat. He was asked to be a re­searcher for the Inuit Tra­di­tion Project, and by 1975 was ap­pointed the in­sti­tute’s di­rec­tor. In ad­di­tion to pub­lish­ing, Anoee su­per­vised the record­ing of el­ders’ sto­ries and their tran­scrip­tion. Highly re­spected for his hu­man­ity and wis­dom, he was ap­pointed as a Mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada in 1982.

– Dr. Kather­ine Pet­ti­pas

JOHN GEOGHE­GAN: When did you first learn about the draw­ings in the Man­i­toba Mu­seum Col­lec­tion that your fa­ther made?

ERIC ANOEE JR.: Kather­ine Pet­ti­pas pub­lished an ar­ti­cle in North­roots, an in-flight magazine on Calm Air, in the fall of 2010. I be­lieve I read it, and then nu­mer­ous peo­ple showed me copies of it. I got in touch with Kather­ine not too long af­ter, maybe a year later or so. She re­sponded right away, and we started email­ing back and forth from then on.

JG: So, how long was it un­til you were able to see the draw­ings in Win­nipeg?

EA: It was about eight years af­ter I found out about the ex­is­tence of the draw­ings. I was plan­ning to be in Win­nipeg in April 2018, with fam­ily, so that’s when I fi­nally got a chance to see the col­lec­tion for my­self.

JG: And what was it like see­ing the draw­ings for the first time?

EA: I could not be­lieve it when Kather­ine told me that my fa­ther made them in the 1930s. He was quite young then—a teen or pre-teen. When she started to ex­plain more of the back­ground about the art and how these draw­ings came to be, I started to con­nect the dots and was quite pleased that I got an op­por­tu­nity to wit­ness my fa­ther’s be­gin­nings as an artist.

JG: Can you tell me a lit­tle bit about your fa­ther?

EA: My fa­ther was born near Qa­mani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, near the Kazan River. His mother moved him to an area closer to the Arviat re­gion when he was young, and he grew up there. In Arviat there was a mis­sion­ary, Don­ald Marsh and his wife, Winifred, and dur­ing the day they of­fered some sort of school­ing. My fa­ther at­tended school with Winifred Marsh, so I would think she had a big role in in­tro­duc­ing my fa­ther to the medium of pen­cil draw­ing and, later in his life, oil on can­vas.

JG: Your fa­ther con­tin­ued to make art, mainly paint­ings in the 1960s and 70s?

EA: Yes. When forced set­tle­ments were im­posed, there was a need to make a liv­ing. This is when the Inuit art econ­omy started grow­ing.

This col­lec­tion of sketches are a look at how life was back then, not just by any per­son, but by a young Inuit man who had no boundaries. —

My fa­ther be­came a sculp­tor and made art to sup­ple­ment his in­come. He carved in stone and other me­dia, but his favourite medium was paint.

JG: It is re­ally in­ter­est­ing to now see these draw­ings and un­der­stand where it all be­gan.

EA: Yes, very much so. I had al­ways un­der­stood that Inuit art came to be in Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, when James and Alma Houston fos­tered and in­tro­duced the con­cept of mod­ern Inuit art. I al­ways as­sumed that was the be­gin­ning. Many peo­ple be­lieve the first Inuit to make draw­ings were fa­mous artists like Keno­juak Ashe­vak, CC, ON, RCA (1927–2013), Pudlo Pud­lat (1916–1992) and Pit­se­o­lak Ashoona, CM, RCA (c. 1904–1983), but my fa­ther was mak­ing his draw­ings 20 years be­fore they started.

JG: But these draw­ings, and many other ob­jects that ex­ist in mu­se­ums around the world, pro­vide ev­i­dence that Inuit have a rich his­tory of mak­ing art, in­clud­ing draw­ings and sculp­ture. I think that it’s won­der­ful that we are able to share this.

EA: Yeah, that is quite true. From time im­memo­rial, Inuit have been craft­ing for ne­ces­sity and for their be­lief sys­tem, among other rea­sons. Inuit have al­ways been artis­tic. Even though there might have been a lack of tra­di­tion in the use of pa­per by Inuit, there has al­ways been the ex­is­tence of art in many forms.

JG: Specif­i­cally look­ing at some of your fa­ther’s works from the late 1930s and early 1940s, there are very so­phis­ti­cated draw­ings of ships, build­ings, an­i­mals and air­planes. Are these things that he wit­nessed in the com­mu­nity, or do you think he was draw­ing from other books and re­sources that were avail­able to him?

EA: For the most part, I think, he cre­ated this art from what he saw: scenes from ev­ery­day life that struck him and things from mem­ory. For in­stance, there are a lot of scenes of wildlife and tra­di­tional Inuit life in small coastal places like Eskimo Point, now Arviat. He drew scenes of Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany boats, dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tions of churches and other items that were just nor­mal, ev­ery­day things back in this time.

JG: This is an in­ter­est­ing time pe­riod as many of the draw­ings also show qal­lu­naat (non-Inuit). There are fish­er­men as well as mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, so the draw­ings cap­ture a big mo­ment of change for Inuit. Look­ing back at the 1930s, is that some­thing your fa­ther ever talked about?

EA: Yes, def­i­nitely. I think he was there for the be­gin­ning of these changes, where dif­fer­ent out­side forces were com­ing to his land. For in­stance, re­li­gion, traders or Royal Cana­dian Mounted Police and other new things must have struck him be­cause he put them on pa­per.

JG: Do you have any favourite draw­ings from this col­lec­tion?

EA: I have a lot of favourites. One of them is the scene of a dog team. In the frame, two men are hunt­ing cari­bou with their ri­fles in hand and aim­ing at a herd of cari­bou. It is like a snapshot of some­thing that we do not see any­more. This part of our cul­ture that my fa­ther il­lus­trated, which was very much alive back then, is not so pre­sent any­more.

JG: I’m look­ing at the draw­ing and I no­tice that he has even la­belled tuktu for the cari­bou and he has also la­belled him­self!

EA: Yeah, and of course he named the dogs in the team—they all had names. The other fel­low, I be­lieve, was his friend, Owe­gayak.

This must have been a re­flec­tion of the time when he and his friend went cari­bou hunt­ing with a dog team.

JG: It is so in­cred­i­ble that he was able to la­bel things so that we can look at these draw­ing al­most 80 years on and be able to see how he rep­re­sented him­self as well as his place in the world.

EA: Def­i­nitely. A lot of my other favourite draw­ings are those of cloth­ing. One of the sketches shows Inuit boots and beaded parkas. He il­lus­trated dif­fer­ent types of Inuit boots, which we call kamiik, and also the de­signs on beaded parkas. I be­lieve they are not ev­ery­day parkas but spe­cial ones. And, of course, it looks like one of his favourite sub­jects was cari­bou. He learned how to draw cari­bou re­ally well, be­cause cari­bou has tra­di­tion­ally been a very im­por­tant part of our lives, whether it is for food or cloth­ing.

JG: It is also lovely to see all the small things he in­cluded too— the lit­tle ev­ery­day de­tails of matches, ac­cor­dions, a har­mon­ica and those smaller ev­ery­day items that I do not think peo­ple nec­es­sar­ily think were in the Arc­tic in the 1930s.

EA: Yeah, that’s right. In one of the draw­ings he did, he sketched the peo­ple in his life that he met. Whether it was his friends or traders and what­not that he re­mem­bered, he drew the peo­ple around his cir­cle of friends and named who they were.

JG: If there is one thing that you want peo­ple to know about the art that your fa­ther made, and these draw­ings in par­tic­u­lar, what do you think that would be?

EA: I think this col­lec­tion of sketches are a look at how life was back then, not just by any per­son, but by a young Inuit man who had no boundaries. He told the sto­ries that came out of his mind in an open-spir­ited way. When you are young, you are more open and care­free. So I think these draw­ings pre­sent a pic­ture of typ­i­cal Inuit life back then. They are not po­lit­i­cal and they are not re­ally overly re­li­gious. The draw­ings are just some­thing that a freespir­ited young per­son could have had the freedom to ex­press.

JG: Mov­ing for­ward, what do you hope will hap­pen with the draw­ings?

EA: From my point of view, I want to share them with fam­ily and friends and def­i­nitely with my chil­dren. One of my younger chil­dren is re­ally into mak­ing art, and my fa­ther’s draw­ings re­minded my son and I why he has a nat­u­ral in­ter­est in sketch­ing. I also want to share this with peo­ple up here. I would like to do a project in the fu­ture—whether it is some­thing to do with an­i­ma­tion, an ex­hi­bi­tion or a book­let. I’m start­ing to think about how I can best show these to my peo­ple. I was re­ally blessed to be raised by such good par­ents, who were artists them­selves. My mother, Martina Anoee (1933–2011), was well known for her Inuit seal­skin dolls, and my fa­ther for his paint­ings and sculp­tures. I think peo­ple and or­ga­ni­za­tions that sup­port Inuit art are very im­por­tant be­cause, back when Inuit com­mu­ni­ties were set­tled, art be­came an in­creas­ingly im­por­tant part of their iden­tity. Many Inuit started as artists and, even to­day, part of our iden­tity is art, which I’m re­ally grate­ful for.

This in­ter­view has been edited for clar­ity and con­densed.


¹ In­ter­view with Winifred Marsh con­ducted at the Man­i­toba Mu­seum in 1976.

² Eric Anoee, “My Writ­ings,” Inuk­ti­tut (Win­ter 1977): 5–51.

Eric Anoee Sr. (1924–1989 Arviat) — PRE­VI­OUS SPREADUn­ti­tled (Cari­bou Hunters) Late 1930sGraphite20 × 32 cm COUR­TESY MAN­I­TOBA MU­SEUM BE­LOW Por­trait of Eric Anoee Sr. from the late 1930s COUR­TESY GEN­ERAL SYNOD AR­CHIVES

BOT­TOM Un­ti­tled (Ships, sea birds and seals in water, boy on sled, erased fig­ure and man with syl­lab­ics over head)Late 1930sGraphite and wax crayon 20 × 16 cm


BE­LOW (LEFT) Un­ti­tled(Quilt, cached cari­bou car­cass and mul­ti­ple fig­ures that may in­clude Rev­erend Marsh and Winifred Marsh)Late 1930sGraphite and wax crayon 20 × 16 cm

RIGHT Un­ti­tled (Snow gog­gles, West­clox pocket watch, Inuk and Euro­pean seal hunters, por­trait of un­known in­di­vid­ual and por­trait of the artist)Late 1930sGraphite and wax crayon 20 × 16 cm

OP­PO­SITE Un­ti­tled (Por­traits, bat­tle, por­trait of the artist and man pad­dling a kayak with seal) Late 1930sGraphite and wax crayon 20 × 16 cm LEFT Un­ti­tled (Air­planes, Angli­can Church at Arviat [then Eskimo Point], Catholic Church at Arviat women push­ing strollers, Hud­son's Bay Com­pany post with ra­dio tower and cari­bou) Late 1930sGraphite and wax crayon20 × 16 cm

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