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Hamilton online art gallery part of exclusive sale of Inuit art

Every October, art collectors eagerly wait for the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection. For over 60 years, the sale focuses on prints made by Inuit artists at the renowned West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Kinngait, Nunavut.

Although there are many Inuit artists producing work that exemplify the range of imagery and breadth of creative approaches, Kinngait remains the epicentre for the exclusive prints production that has become increasingly popular around the world over the last few years.

“The demand for many prints often exceeds supply, as each print is usually limited to an edition of only 50 copies and many sell out very quickly,” said Nanooq Inuit Art Gallery owner Beth Dunton.

While only a few galleries around the world have access to selling the exclusive art, many of them rely on in-person art auctions. But, as the demand for this art increased worldwide, Hamilton-based Nanooq Inuit Art Gallery saw an opportunity to have an online gallery that focuses on e-commerce.

“Nanooq is able to display a large variety of works without the overhead of a bricks and mortar gallery,” said Dunton.

“It has also allowed us the flexibility to offer pop-up exhibits and to date we have held four around the city. Currently, we feature prints, drawings and carvings exclusively from Cape Dorset and we have the potential to expand our offerings.”

Nanooq opened in 2015 with roots at the Westdale Gallery in Hamilton. The Westdale Gallery began to promote and distribute Inuit art in 1958 under then gallery owner Julius Lebow, who is a major figure in the local art world having distributed works from high profile artists such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. It was under Lebow that Dunton’s appreciation for Inuit art began and featuring prints from the annual Cape Dorset collection.

Cape Dorset prints are famous not only for their exclusive availability, but also the tradition in which they are continued to be made. Since the 1950s, Kinngait has been at the centre for Inuit drawing, printmaking, and carving. Art production continues to be a significant injection into the local economy with more than 20% of the labour force hired in the arts.

The graphic art workshop was created in Kinngait by James Archibald Houston as a way for the community to generate income from adapting traditional artwork using more contemporary techniques. And the print program, that creates the Cape Dorset Annual Art Collection, is modelled after Japanese ukiyo-e workshops where they use wood blocks to reproduce the prints.

“The co-operative is in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Nunavut and is unique among the Arctic Co-operatives for its focus on the arts and the Canadian artists of the community,” said Dunton.

“Kinngait Studios’ warehouse is Dorset Fine Arts, located in Toronto. Dorset Fine Arts was established in Toronto in 1978 as the wholesale marketing division of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative’s Kinngait Studios. It is from this showroom that we select our featured pieces for our website. Nanooq Inuit Art Gallery works very closely with Dorset Fine Arts to curate the works of art we sell. “

The art that comes out of the Cape Dorset Annual Art Collection has helped grow global interest in Indigenous culture and their arts with Dunton saying that the collection speaks to the universal state of contemporary visual art, while showing the lifestyle of the Canadian arctic region.

More contemporary pieces reflect the history and culture of Inuit and their natural landscape juxtaposing it with imagery from the modern life of their current communities. This has also developed an unmistakable style that borders between abstraction and Impressionist styles. The future for Inuit art looks bright as it starts to make its way into corporate art collections such as Canada Goose and the Royal Botanical Gardens.

“We expect both the domestic and international demand for Inuit art to remain strong. In addition, we would like to see more Inuit art in public spaces and the workplace,” said Dunton.

“We hope that more local businesses will consider adding art to their workplaces, so this year we launched our Inuit Art for Business page and services.”

The 2020 Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection is currently available for preview at the gallery website and will be released for sale on October 17th.

Photo credit:
Okpik Selfie
PEE ASHEVAK
Stonecut 2020
Courtesy Nanooq Inuit Art
© Dorset Fine Arts

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