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You can get a brochure, but it doesn't begin to illustrate Eskimo art

You can get a brochure, but it doesn't begin to illustrate Eskimo art image
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You can get a brochure, but it doesn't begin to illustrate Eskimo art



If you go to a gallery a few days before an exhibit opens, you can often get a sneak preview. Not so with the "Cape Dorset Prints 1984." You'll have to stifle your curiosity until the show opens at 4:30 p.m. Friday at a place appropriate for both drama and the collection: the Power Center for the Performing Arts.

The building was named for the family of Eugene B. Power, the local philanthropist who in 1953 founded Eskimo Art Inc. as a non-profit corporation to distribute art work by the Inuit (Eskimo) of the eastern Arctic regions of Canada.

At that time, Eskimo art was the first and only outlet in the United States for work by the Inuit, who live along the shores of Hudson Bay and Baffin Island. Now there are 36 dealers for the graphics collections alone: nine in the United States, 25 in Canada and two in Europe. 

The 1984 collection, which is the 26th graphics collection, features 43 prints. Since wood is scarce, the Inuit uses soapstone or stealite for stonecut plates. Other printing methods include lithography and stencil. Printmaking is a logical extension of their ancient carving tradition. 

The Inuit, who hunt game for food, live a semi-nomadic existence in tents and snow houses. All those factors influence their artwork. Animals dominate the imagery. Next in frequency is the human image. Images of dwellings are infrequent and usually serve as the background or action instead of being the focal point, as they are sometimes in Western art. Last year's collection did have a few images of airplanes, which are often the Inuit's only access to the outside world. There are no such references to the modern world this year. That inclusion and exclusion  reflects the dilemma faced by the Inuit and many other native peoples-how to preserve their culture in a changing world. 

There are trade-offs. In 1951, the Canadian government sent a young sculptor and teacher to Cape Dorset to encourage the local population to produce carvings for trade. The subsequent sales of their art work has meant many of the Inuit can stay in their native area instead of having to move away to work. Pitaloosie Saila, who has 12 prints in the exhibit, spent eight years of her childhood in hospitals in Quebec and Ontario for the treatment of tuberculosis. 

You can get a bit of a preview of this year's collection in a brochure at Eskimo Art, which now sells sculpture, prints, calendars, and stationary at 527 E LIberty St.

As someone who did get a real sneak preview of the collection, I can tell you the small, back-and-white reproductions in the brochure only hint at the color, design, detail and graphic punch of the originals.

'Cape Dorset Prints 1984' opens with a reception from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the lobby of the Power Center for the Performing Arts. 121 Fletcher St. The exhibit will be open an hour before performances there through Nov. 18. The exhibit will then move to Eskimo Art Inc., Suite 202, 527 E. Liberty St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday.

Pitaloosie Saila's 'The Owl's Spring Dance'