McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Spotlight on Inuit art in Health Sciences Centre

Published: January 18, 2013
Sedna (Women’s Spirit) with Polar Bear (1972, a sculpture by Kenojuak Ashevak
Sedna (Women's Spirit) with Polar Bear (1972), a stone sculpture by Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak

A stone sculpture at the entrance to the administration area of the Faculty of Health Sciences in the Health Sciences Centre stands as a tribute to its pioneer Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak.

Sedna (Women’s Spirit) with Polar Bear (1972) is part of the legacy left by Ashevak who died January 13 of lung cancer at the age of 85. The work is on loan to McMaster University from a local family.

Considered the master of Inuit art, Ashevak was born in an igloo in a hunting camp on South Baffin Island and lived a traditional Inuit life in her early years. Later, in the tiny community of Cape Dorset, she played a key role in the birth of Inuit printmaking.

In 1958, she was approached by James Houston, a federal government administrator who was encouraging Inuit to produce art as a way to make money. He noticed a design she had produced on a sealskin bag and asked her to draw it. It became her first print. She was immediately successful and her decorative prints have become some of the most recognized art in Canada. Her best-known print, The Enchanted Owl, was used on a 1970 postage stamp.

Ashevak garnered numerous awards throughout her life including being named to the Order of Canada in 1967 and promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 1982.

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