|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Akeeaktashuk (1898 – 1954) (1)|
A famous Canadian sculptor, “Akeeaktashuk was one of the first Inuit [Eskimo] carvers James Houston [see AskART] introduced to the world in the early 1950s and 1960s.” Akeeaktashuk was born in Inukjuak (AKA: Inoucdjouac, and formerly Port Harrison), Quebec, on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay, and died while walrus hunting near his home in Grise Fiord, Ellesmere Island, Nunavut. His works have been included in exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, and at the Smithsonian Institution; they’re also in several important private collections and in prominent Canadian museum collections. (2) (3) (4)
His mediums were stone, ivory, bone, wood, antler and mixed mediums. His subjects included, portraits, figures, birds, animals and Inuit genre* (e.g. nomadic life, family activities, hunting, fishing, etc.). His style is described as Primitive Art* or Inuit Art. AskART images have some good illustrations of his work. (5)
“… [he had] an astonishing talent for observing and keenly portraying humans, animals and birds in stone and ivory.” (6)
Most of Akeeaktashuk’s lifetime fame came without his knowledge of it, because, coincidentally, shortly after his discovery as an artist he move to Grise Fiord, one of the most remote places on earth.
During his life and posthumously, his carvings were included in numerous important exhibitions, such as “Eskimo Art”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1951); “Eskimo Carvings: Coronation [of Queen Elizabeth II] Exhibition”, Gimpel Fils, London, England (1953); “Eskimo Sculpture”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1955); “Eskimo Art of the Canadian Eastern Arctic”, circulated by the Smithsonian Travelling Exhibition Service (1955); “Eskimo Sculpture”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1967); “Sculpture/Inuit: Masterworks of the Canadian Arctic”, Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, Ottawa – also visiting Vancouver, Paris, Copenhagen, London, Moscow, Leningrad, and Philadelphia (1971 – 1973); “Port Harrison / Inoucdjouac”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1976); “Inuit Sculpture from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene B. Power”, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor (1979); “By the Light of the Qulliq: Eskimo Life in the Canadian Arctic”, Smithsonian Institution, a travelling exhibition of Inuit art from the Feheley Collection (1979 – 1981); “The Inuit Amautik: I Like My Hood To Be Full”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1980); “Selections from the John and Mary Robertson Collection of Inuit Art”, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario (1986); “Arctic Mirror”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec (1990); “The First Passionate Collector: The Ian Lindsay Collection of Inuit Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1991); and “Arctic Wildlife: The Art of the Inuit”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec (1993). Recently, his carvings were included in “Inuit Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection”, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (April 2 – October 16, 2011).
According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, Akeeaktashuk’s carvings are in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Quebec), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec), Quebec Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec City), Winnipeg Art Gallery (Manitoba), and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).
(1) Please note: Our sources use several different versions and spellings for Akeeaktashuk’s name, they include Akeeaktashook, Akkeaktashuk, Aktiaktasuk, and Aqiattusuk; in her book The Long Exile Melanie McGrath calls him Paddy Aqiatusuk; the National Gallery of Canada, the Quebec Museum of Fine Arts and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts call him Isa Paddy Aqiattusuk; Katilvik.com says Isakallak or "little Isa" is how he was known to the Inuit; and then there’s his Canadian government issued Inuit Disc Number* – E9713 – which might be the only identifying mark on his carvings. – MDS
(2) Quote source: Katilvik.com.
(3) Source: Chapter 24 titled “In Search of Contemporary Eskimo Art”, dated 1952, by James Houston, pages 162 – 166, in Documents in Canadian Art (1987), edited by Douglas Fetherling (see AskART book references).
(4) Grise Fiord is the northernmost civilian settlement in Canada; it’s about 1300 miles north of Inukjuak, 720 miles north of the Arctic Circle and 925 miles south of the North Pole. In 1953, to assert Canada's claim to the High Arctic during the Cold War, the government of Canada resettled 19 Inuit families from northern Quebec to Grise Fiord, Ellesmere Island and to Resolute Bay, Cornwallis Island. Akeeaktashuk was one of the leaders, and his family members were settlers. The Inuit were promised houses, wildlife to hunt, and the opportunity to return home if they didn’t like it. If fact, there were no houses, very little wildlife to hunt, and the offer to return them home was withdrawn.
The story of Akeeaktashuk (AKA: Paddy Aqiatusuk) and his family in Grise Fiord is told in Melanie McGrath’s 2007 book The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic and in The New York Times review of the book by Elizabeth Royte, an excerpt of which follows:
“Ellesmere is, McGrath notes, the harshest terrain that humans have ever continuously inhabited. A high arctic desert, its interior is “an impenetrable mass of frozen crags and deep fjords.” The Inuit soon learned that marine mammals were scarce, as were caribou, fox and fresh water. Their clothing wasn’t warm enough, and their sleds and harnesses were all wrong for the rocky terrain. The rough waters made hunting by kayak impossible, and the dry wind made their dogs’ lungs bleed. Sufficient snow for snow houses arrived late, leaving the settlers in flimsy canvas tents until late winter. There wasn’t enough fuel for fires. The air was almost 30 degrees colder than back home, and the near constant wind made it feel more than 50 degrees worse. Four months of darkness “made hunting an almost daily terror,” ….The starving Inuit ate bird feathers, made broth from boot liners.”
In a 2009 interview, when asked about the conditions the Inuit had to contend with, Melanie McGrath included these further comments: “Ellesmere Island is about the size of Great Britain, and has a population of maybe a few thousand caribou, so you really are hunting for needles in haystacks.” and “There is no snow, or very little snow up on Ellesmere Island – it’s desert.”
The Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples called the relocation “one of the worst human rights violations in the history of Canada.” The survivors and their families were awarded $10 million in 1996 and given a formal apology from the government of Canada on August 18, 2010.
“Canada’s Arctic sovereignty is long-standing, well established and based on historic title, founded in part on the presence of Inuit and other indigenous peoples since time immemorial.” Source: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (website) – dated 2012.
“...we take pride in supporting Canada's claim to the High Arctic region.” Source: Grise Fiord (website) – dated 2012.
Sources: Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada; Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada; Grise Fiord website; Nunatsiaq News, Nunavut; New York Times; Marian Botsford Fraser interview of Melanie McGrath for Aurora Online, Athabasca University, Athabasca, Alberta (2009); and The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic (2007), by Melanie McGrath (see AskART book references). For those wishing to learn more about the Grise Fiord Inuit there are web-links attached to the sources below.
(5) Please note: “No more than 100 small and simple, but direct carvings can be attributed to his [Akeeaktashuk’s] hand with certainty.” Source: R.A.J. Phillips, “Death of an Artist” Mayfair, December 1955. Also note: Many works come up for auction or sale described as “Camp of Akeeaktashuk” or “Circle of Akeeaktashuk”, these are frequently included with the auction results of originals by Akeeaktashuk, which explains creation dates that are after his death and probably the vast differences in prices. However, several museums, including the National Gallery of Canada consider some ‘Circle of’ or ‘Camp of’ works to be important and include them in their collections. – MDS.
(6) Source: James Houston, The Canadian Encyclopedia Second edition (1988), edited by James H. Marsh (see AskART book references).
Inuit Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection (2010), edited by Gerald McMaster (see AskART book references)
The Long Exile: A Tale of Inuit Betrayal and Survival in the High Arctic (2007), by Melanie McGrath (see AskART book references)
Inuit Art: A History (2000), by Richard C. Crandall (see AskART book references)
The First Passionate Collector: The Ian Lindsay Collection of Inuit Art (1998), by Ian Lindsay, et al. (see AskART book references)
Biographies of Inuit Artists (1993), compiled and published by the Inuit Art Section, Indian and Northern Affairs (see AskART book references)
Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references)
The Canadian Encyclopedia Second Edition (1988), edited by James H. Marsh (see AskART book references)
Documents in Canadian Art (1987), edited by Douglas Fetherling (see AskART book references)
Canadian Guild of Crafts Quebec: The Permanent Collection (1980), by Virginia J. Watt, et al. [no index – see pages 48 and 73 for illustrations] (see AskART book references)
Sculpture of the Eskimo (1972), by George Swinton (see AskART book references)
The Eskimo Art Collection of the Toronto-Dominion Bank (1967), by George Swinton (see AskART book references)
Canadian Eskimo Art (1956), by James Houston [note: front cover Spearman is by Akeeaktashuk] (see AskART book references)
Canadian Heritage Information Network*
Art Gallery of Ontario (catalogue summaries online)
Katilvik.com (biography, exhibitions)
Inuit Art Foundation (biography)
Grise Fiord website – http://www.grisefiord.ca/eng/history.html
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada – http://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng/1100100015397/1100100015404
“For Grise Fiord’s exiles, an apology that came too late”, by Gabriel Zarate, Nunatsiaq News, Nunavut, September 11, 2010
“Trail of Tears”, by Elizabeth Royte, New York Times, April 8, 2007 – http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/08/books/review/Royte.t.html?ex=1188964800&en=4b6eb6a89d7e85dd&ei=5070&_r=0
“Inuit were moved 2,000 km in Cold War Manoeuvring”, by Paul Watson, The Toronto Star, Sunday November 29, 2009 – http://www.thestar.com/printarticle/732175
* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see AskART.com. Glossary http://www.askart.com/AskART/lists/Art_Definition.aspx.
Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke.
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