Printed Mat­ters: Un­earthing the Ulukhak­tok Archive

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Kather­ine Wabe­gi­jig

The chance dis­cov­ery of works by He­len Kal­vak, Agnes Nanogak Goose and more—once thought to be lost— spread across three safes in the com­mu­nity of Ulukhak­tok, has spurred a new dig­i­ti­za­tion ef­fort to archive the al­most forty-year his­tory of print­mak­ing in the com­mu­nity and the cul­tural mem­ory it con­tains.

In Jan­uary 2017, three safes were opened af­ter be­ing locked for decades in the com­mu­nity of Ulukhak­tok (Hol­man), Inu­vialuit Set­tle­ment Re­gion, NT. In­side were hun­dreds of his­toric draw­ings, prints, sten­cils, doc­u­ments, sto­ries and pho­to­graphs, in­clud­ing the orig­i­nal graphic ex­per­i­ments of He­len Kal­vak, CM, RCA (1901–1984) and Mark Emerak (1901–1983), cre­ated at the Hol­man Print Shop (now the Ulukhak­tok Arts Cen­tre). The his­tory of print­mak­ing in Ulukhak­tok be­gan with the for­ma­tion of the Hol­man Eskimo Co-op­er­a­tive and in­cluded artists He­len Kal­vak, Vic­tor Ekootak (1916–1965), Jimmy Me­morana (1919–2009), Harry Ego­tak (1925–2009) and William Kagyut, en­cour­aged by Fa­ther Henri Tardy, who ran the Catholic mis­sion­ary and in 1962 in­tro­duced them to print­mak­ing us­ing seal­skin sten­cils.¹ Hol­man Eskimo Prints 1965 fea­tures the in­au­gu­ral print col­lec­tion from the co-op, which al­most con­sis­tently pro­duced an an­nual col­lec­tion un­til 2000. Ne­ces­sity, style and mar­ketabil­ity saw the tech­niques of the artists and print­mak­ers change through­out these 35 years, from seal­skin sten­cil to stone­cut to wood­cut to lithog­ra­phy and fi­nally back to sten­cils, pri­mar­ily uti­liz­ing My­lar.

All of these ex­per­i­ments, orig­i­nal draw­ings and prints were care­fully and quickly

While the edi­tioned prints were al­ways the end goal, the draw­ings pre­ced­ing the prints are in­valu­able.

packed in three crates in -55° Arc­tic Fe­bru­ary weather and shipped to Cana­dian Arc­tic Pro­duc­ers (CAP) in Mis­sis­sauga, ON, the mar­ket­ing arm of Arc­tic Co-op­er­a­tives Lim­ited (Arc­tic Co-ops), who have whole heart­edly served their co-ops over the past 53 years. I am the Col­lec­tions Man­ager at CAP tasked with the hon­our of car­ing for, cat­a­logu­ing, dig­i­tiz­ing and, most cru­cially, re­hous­ing the com­mu­nity’s graphic archive in or­der to en­sure their long-term con­ser­va­tion.²

When I first toured the show room, I was over­whelmed by the sheer num­ber of sculp­tures and the amount of tal­ent on dis­play. My cur­rent work­place is an in­dus­trial ware­house area where ship­ping and re­ceiv­ing and stor­age and re­pairs oc­cur. I am fa­mil­iar with this en­vi­ron­ment. I have worked in pic­ture fram­ing work­shops, ware­houses and man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties, han­dling all things to do with the care of art­work over the past 20 years. This op­por­tu­nity is dif­fer­ent; this is an un­earthing. Con­stant dis­cov­er­ies are found in ev­ery layer of work that I dili­gently sift through in these plain pine crates. It is ex­cit­ing to me, this new­comer to the Inuit art world, but for my col­leagues, who have been work­ing with the Ulukhak­tok co-op, print­mak­ers, artists and their art­work for decades, it is be­yond that. Their love for these com­mu­ni­ties and their artists is con­ta­gious and very eas­ily un­der­stood. I feel the im­por­tance and rel­e­vance of this archive that I will ex­plore for the next nine months.

Open­ing each care­fully wrapped folder that emerges from these crates is like un­wrap­ping a gift—an archive of mem­ory and cul­ture of this com­mu­nity that cap­tures its his­tory, tal­ent and spirit. There is an in­her­ent de­sire to spend time with each piece, but also a prac­ti­cal need to col­lect and en­ter the re­quired data, re­search where pos­si­ble, la­bel and then tem­po­rar­ily store each ob­ject to then be pho­tographed. Ul­ti­mately, the pre­cious in-depth re­search must be saved for af­ter the tech­ni­cal as­pects of manag­ing this col­lec­tion have been ad­dressed. The vi­tal first step in this project is a full in­ven­tory of Ulukhak­tok’s for­mal print­mak­ing pro­gram, from 1961 to its end in 2000.

Un­doubt­edly, Ulukhak­tok’s ear­li­est seal­skin prints hold in­cred­i­ble value—cul­tur­ally, ar­tis­ti­cally and oth­er­wise—when we think about the be­gin­nings of this legacy. Stored in a folder were 79 seal­skin prints and ex­per­i­ments signed by Ego­tak (or Igutak), Kal­vak (or Kal­vakad­lak), Jimmy Me­morana, Bill (Billy) Goose (1943–1989) and Paul Ipi­ilun, bear­ing their re­spec­tive iden­ti­fy­ing des­ig­na­tion, sym­bol or chop.

Artist Agnes Nanogak Goose (1925– 2001) pro­duced an as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of draw­ings cov­er­ing a vast range of sub­ject mat­ter. These works won Nanogak Goose high es­teem and an honourary de­gree from Mount Saint Vin­cent Univer­sity in Hal­i­fax, in 1985.³ Al­ready, over two hun­dred of her works have been cat­a­logued, in­clud­ing 38 pa­per col­lage de­signs, still in their air mailed box from the Na­tional Film Board of Canada in 1973, ad­dressed to “Nanogak.” Re­search proved to be some­what dif­fi­cult as Nanogak Goose is not named or tagged within the NFB web­site [Ed. Note: the NFB have since up­dated their web­site to in­clude a credit for Nanogak]. The col­lages were used in the mak­ing of the film The Owl Who Mar­ried a Goose: An Eskimo Leg­end (1974), a short di­rected and an­i­mated by Caroline Leaf, us­ing sand an­i­ma­tion based on Nanogak Goose’s de­signs. 4 In the end cred­its the artist is rec­og­nized with “DE­SIGN: NANOGAK.”

Uniden­ti­fied works that are un­cov­ered within the crates give room for fur­ther dis­cov­ery through post-pho­tog­ra­phy re­search, when they will fi­nally be avail­able through dig­i­ti­za­tion on a newly ac­quired col­lec­tions man­age­ment soft­ware sys­tem de­signed for mu­se­ums and her­itage or­ga­ni­za­tions. An artist’s de­sign style can be highly rec­og­niz­able and con­sis­tent in de­tail within the sub­ject mat­ter that was cho­sen cat­a­logue af­ter cat­a­logue, but there is al­ways the chance that a draw­ing could be highly in­flu­enced by an­other artist’s style. Slowly get­ting to know these artists and the com­mu­nity of Ulukhak­tok over these first few months is vi­tal to re­con­nect­ing these draw­ings and prints to their maker.

While the edi­tioned prints were al­ways the end goal for the co-op, the draw­ings pre­ced­ing these prints are in­valu­able. They show the cre­ative process of the graphic de­signer and how true to the artist’s ren­der­ing the print­maker would stay. Thus far, there are over 40 iden­ti­fied artists who have draw­ings in var­i­ous states of com­ple­tion found in this his­tor­i­cal archive.

Although there is a highly con­sis­tent pres­ence of par­tic­u­lar artists in the Hol­man cat­a­logues there was al­ways room given to new artists. In a signed let­ter in­cluded in the Canada Coun­cil for the Arts grant pro­posal, artists Peter Palvik, He­len Oli­fie, Mary Okheena, Ma­bel Nigiyok, Emily Kud­lak and Louie Nigiyok in­cluded the state­ment, “On be­half of the artists of Ulukhak­tok, NT, we would like to see print­mak­ing re­turn to our com­mu­nity. With re­gards, the Artists of Ulukhak­tok.” These es­tab­lished artists, and those that will emerge, are es­sen­tial to re­vi­tal­iz­ing print­mak­ing in Ulukhak­tok. This project al­lows these artists, their com­mu­nity, re­searchers, cu­ra­tors and col­lec­tors to re-en­gage with Ulukhak­tok’s al­most forty-year his­tory of print­mak­ing by mak­ing these images avail­able and ac­ces­si­ble in one co­he­sive archive for the very first time.


¹ Su­san Gus­tavi­son, “The Early His­tory and En­dur­ing Nar­ra­tive of Kin­ngait and Ulukhak­tok’s Seal­skin Sten­cils,” Inuit Art Quar­terly 31, no. 2 (Sum­mer 2018): 56–57.

² This project is made pos­si­ble by the Cre­at­ing, Know­ing and Shar­ing: Long-Term Projects grant funded by the Canada Coun­cil for the Arts.

³ Inuit Art Quar­terly Pro­files, s.v. “Agnes Nanogak Goose,” ac­cessed Au­gust 17, 2018, https://inu­itart­foun­da­­files/artist/ ag­nes­nanogak­goose.

4 Caroline Leaf, The Owl Who Mar­ried a Goose: An Eskimo Leg­end (Toronto: Na­tional Film Board of Canada, 1974), DVD.


Mark Emerak (1901–1983 Ulukhak­tok) — Un­ti­tled1975Graphite50.7 × 66.5 cm

Agnes Nanogak Goose —Draw­ing for the print The Mos­quito1992Felt pen76 × 55.7 cm

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