Johnny Inukpuk – one of the most important Inuit carvers.
He started carving trying to make ends meet for his family, trading them for food and other provisions.
At age 37 he sold his first carving but his carving career did not really start until the 1950s.
It was his friend James Houston that inspired and helped Johnny to become a successful and widely-recognized artist.
Houston is credited with the development and recognition of Inuit carvings as an art form.
Himself an artist Houston painted scenes of Inuit life, while serving as a career civil servant in the eastern Arctic of Canada.
On a trip to a tiny Inuit village Houston exchanged several of his paintings for a small Inuit carving.
He was struck by its simplicity and beauty; ended up taking a dozen carvings back on a trip to Montreal.
Working with the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, Houston and the Canadian government, Houston began promoting Inuit carvings art.
In 1949 the first show of Inuit carvings in Montreal sold out.
By the late 1950s, the Canadian Government sponsored tours of Inuit art through Eastern and Western Europe, South America and the Middle East.
Traditionally, Inuit carvers used walrus ivory.
But given its popularity Inuit carvers had to turn to other materials – soapstone and serpentine – to carve.
By the 1960s Inuit carvings were recognized as a major and important art form.
Johnny’s move from his small village to a larger community of 1,800 people was fortuitous – that’s where he met Houston.
Houston encouraged Inukpuk to make carving his career.
He did and it payed off.
Quickly Inukpuk became an important carver.
The Toronto Dominion Bank, holding one of the largest collection of Inuit art, began buying several of his works in 1951.
Two years later Inukpuk’s carvings were part of an international Inuit exhibition, titled The Coronation Exhibition, in London, England.
His carvings are held in many major museums and by art collectors all over the world.
His art represent facets of Inuit life, hunting and child rearing. Many featuring a mother with a hare lip and a child; the mother, his wife.
In 1978, Inukpuk was made a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
He died in 2007.
Inukpuk, a great story teller, common to indigenous people, once lamented his carvings did not come close in representing the stories of the Inuit people.
He was right, but he sure came close.
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