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 John Pangnark  (1920 - 1980)

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Lived/Active: Nunavut / Canada      Known for: Inuit sculpture and stone carving, modernist and minimalist

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Pangnik is primarily known as John Pangnark

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
John Pangnark (1920 – 1980) (1)

“He was the Brancusi of the North, with a rare feeling for abstraction.” (2)

An important Canadian Inuit (Eskimo) sculptor and carver, John Pangnark was born in Windy Lake, Keewatin (now Nunavut) and died in Rankin Inlet, Keewatin (now Nunavut) [about 350 miles north-east of Windy lake]. His life and work are discussed in most books on Inuit art. His carvings have been included in numerous landmark exhibitions, and they’re prized acquisitions in prominent public and private collections. (3)

His primary medium was stone. His subjects were faces, heads, and figures. His styles were Modernism* and Minimalism*. His typical work is semi abstract with abbreviated bodies and suggested facial features; the AskART images are excellent illustrations of it. (4)

Pangnark was largely self-educated as an artist. He was a nomadic hunter for most of his life, but settled in Arviat, Keewatin (now Nunavut) [about 200 miles south of Rankin Inlet, both are on the western shore of Hudson Bay] in 1958 due to a famine in the region. ‘He began carving in the early 1960s and quickly gained National attention. In 1970, he was one of four Inuit invited to demonstrate their carving at the World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan. That same year his sculptures were featured alongside Jessie Oonark’s textiles in a two-person exhibition presented by the National Museum of Man (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization), Ottawa.’ (5)(6)

Since the mid 1960s Pangnark’s works have been included in numerous important group exhibitions such as “Eskimo Sculpture: Selections from the Twomey Collection”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba (1967); “Sculpture of the Inuit: Masterworks of the Canadian Arctic”*, British Museum, London, et al. [see glossary] (1971); “Cultures of the Sun and Snow: Indian and Eskimo Art of the Americas”, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Quebec and touring (1973); “The Mulders’ Collection of Eskimo Sculpture”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1976); “The Zazelenchuk Collection of Eskimo Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1978); “The Coming and Going of the Shaman: Eskimo Shamanism and Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1978); “Sculpture of the Inuit: Lorne Balshine Collection/Lou Osipov Collection/ Dr. Harry Winrob Collection”, Surrey Art Gallery, B.C. (1979); “Inuit Art: A Selection of Inuit Art from the Collection of the National Museum of Man, Ottawa, and the Rothmans Permanent Collection of Inuit Sculpture, Canada”, National Museum of Man, Ottawa, and touring (1981); “The Jacqui and Morris Shumiatcher Collection of Inuit Art”, Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina (1981); “Eskimo Point / Arviat”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1982); “Stones, Bones, Cloth, and Paper: Inuit Art in Edmonton Collections”, Edmonton Art Gallery, Alberta (1984); “Uumajut: Animal Imagery in Inuit Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1985); “Pure Vision: The Keewatin Spirit”, MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan (1986); “The Williamson Collection of Inuit Sculpture”, Mackenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan (1987); “In the Shadow of the Sun: Contemporary Indian and Inuit Art in Canada”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec and touring (1988 – 1989); “The Stone Sculpture of Arviat”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario (1989); “Arctic Mirror”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec (1990); “Carving and Identity: Inuit Sculpture”, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (1999); “Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948 – 1970”, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec (1999); “The Jerry Twomey Collection at the Winnipeg Art Gallery: Inuit Sculpture from the Canadian Arctic”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (2003 – 2004); “Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum”, Heard Museum, Phoenix and touring (the USA 2006 – 2011); and “Sanattiaqsimajut: Inuit Art from the Carleton University Art Gallery Collection”, Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa (2009).

Recently, his works were included in “Inuit Modern: The Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection”, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (2011); and currently they’re in “Creation & Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (January 25, 2013 to April 14, 2013).

His works have also been included in solo and group exhibitions at prominent commercial galleries, such as Lippel Gallery, Montreal; The Inuit Gallery of Eskimo Art, Toronto, Ontario; Inuit Gallery of Vancouver, B.C.; Marion Scott Gallery, Vancouver, B.C.; Arctic Artistry, Scarsdale, New York; and The Arctic Circle, Los Angeles, California.

Pangnark’s carvings are in numerous important private collections (see exhibitions above and sources below) and museum collections. According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network*, and individual museum websites, his works are in the permanent collections of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), Art Gallery of Alberta (Edmonton), Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Quebec), Carleton University Art Gallery (Ottawa, Ontario), Heard Museum (Phoenix, Arizona), Mackenzie Art Gallery (Regina, Saskatchewan), McMichael Canadian Art Collection (Kleinburg, Ontario), Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec), Museum of Anthropology (University of British Columbia, Vancouver),  Winnipeg Art Gallery* (Manitoba) and the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa).
(1) Please note: The Canadian Heritage Information Network* and list several alternate names for this artist; they are: Elijah Pangnark, Pangnerk, Pangnik, Parngnark, and Parngwark. Combinations of two of these names may also be used without the first names John or Elijah. There is also his Canadian government issued Inuit Disc Number* – E1104 –, which could be used to sign works, and his signature in syllabics*, which has been used to sign works. For an illustration of Pangnark’s name spelled in syllabics please see AskART signature examples.

(2) Source: George Swinton [see AskART] quoted on page 243, Canadian Art: From its Beginnings to 2000 (2002), by Anne Newlands (see AskART book references).

(3) In 1999, the Northwest Territories was divided to create the new Canadian territory of Nunavut. The District of Keewatin, which had been part of the Northwest Territories, was completely absorbed by Nunavut. Source: Government of Nunavut.

(4) Several artists in the District of Keewatin had a modernist/minimalist style; John Pangnark was one of the first and most distinguished. Three other important early Keewatin modernists, who are frequently included in discussions of Pangnark, are John Kavik, John Tiktak and George Arluk; they all have substantial AskART records with numerous illustrations of their work.

(5) Quote source: Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art*.

(6) “Contemporary Inuit sculpture produced for the art market began in the 1950's in response to a very successful sale, by the Canadian Handicraft Guild in Montreal in 1949, of pieces collected by James A. Houston [see AskART] on the east coast of Hudson Bay. The Inuit co-operatives developed by 1959 and a central marketing agency was established in 1965. Carving continues to be a major source of income in the Eastern Canadian Arctic, an area which has undergone major social and economic changes, especially since World War II. There has been a steady growth in permanent settlements during the last half of this century, which has made large scale carving in stone feasible. Traditionally, carving materials were mainly bone, antler, and ivory, because of their light weight, strength, and durability. Heavier and more fragile stone was used primarily for lamps and cooking vessels. Although Inuit sculpture is often referred to as 'soapstone' sculpture, in fact, less than half of the stone used is soapstone (a high-grade talc or steatite). Other stones commonly used include serpentine, olivine, periodite, chrysolite, and others. In the early years of the industry it was possible to identify where a carving came from by the specific type of stone used, however, in recent years stone is traded on a wider, regional basis. Whale bone, antler, walrus tusk ivory, and a variety of other materials are also used by Inuit carvers. Themes in Inuit sculpture are based on personal experiences and beliefs; derive from oral traditions, mythology, as well as from narrative and figurative themes depicting arctic fauna and scenes of traditional Inuit life. Regional, community, and individual styles are also apparent.” Source: Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.

Creation & Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art (2012), edited by Darlene Coward Wight (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum (2006), by Ingo Hessel (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

The Way of Inuit Art: Aesthetics and History in and Beyond the Arctic (2005), by Emily E. Auger (see AskART book references)

Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Aboriginal Peoples to Canadian Identity and Culture, Volume 1 (2005), edited by David Newhouse, Cora J. Voyageur and Dan Beavon (see AskART book references)

Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)

Canadian Art: From its Beginnings to 2000 (2002), by Anne Newlands (see AskART book references)

Sights of Resistance: Approaches to Canadian Visual Culture (2001), by Robert James Belton (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

Inuit Art: A History (2000), by Richard C. Crandall (see AskART book references)

Celebrating Inuit Art: 1948 – 1970 (1999), edited by Maria Von Finckenstein (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

Inuit Art: An Introduction (1998), by Ingo Hessel and Dieter Hessel (see AskART book references)

Saint James Guide to Native North American Artists (1998), by Roger Matuz (see AskART book references)

Biographies of Inuit Artists (1993), compiled and published by the Inuit Art Section, Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada (see AskART book references)

In the Shadow of the Sun: Perspectives on Contemporary Native Art (1993), edited by the Canadian Museum of Civilization (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

Sculpture of the Inuit (1992), by George Swinton (see AskART book references)

Art and Architecture in Canada (1991), by Loren R. Lerner and Mary F. Williamson (see AskART book references)

Art Gallery of Ontario – Selected Works (1990), by William J. Withrow, et al. (see AskART book references)

The Canadian Encyclopedia Second Edition (1988), edited by James H. Marsh (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

Inuit Art Section: Catalogue of Services and Collections (1984), Research and Documentation Centre on Inuit Art (see AskART book references)

The Jacqui and Morris Shumiatcher Collection of Inuit Art (1981), by Nelda Swinton (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

A Dictionary of Canadian Artists: Volume 5, Nadeau – Perrigard (1977), by Colin S. MacDonald (see AskART book references)

Sculpture of the Eskimo (1972), by George Swinton (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

Sculpture of the Inuit: Masterworks of the Canadian Arctic (1971), by William E. Taylor Jr., George Swinton and James Houston (see AskART book references) – exhibition catalogue

Canadian Heritage Information Network* (biography, museums)

Centre for Contemporary Canadian Art* (biography, illustrations)

National Gallery of Canada (library and exhibitions records)

Art Gallery of Ontario (book and catalogue summaries online)

Museum of Anthropology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. (biography, exhibitions)

Inuit Art (biography)

Simon Fraser University (library records)

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Prepared and contributed by M.D. Silverbrooke

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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