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.
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