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Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak

If You Were Born Today, January 29:

You are extremely likable and quite brilliant. You love a good debate, friendly challenge, and stimulating conversations, and always have something unique to share. Although you seem wiser than your years while young, you have a youthful quality that is with you throughout your life. There is a gentle and caring quality about you that others love. While you could get away with a whole lot just because you are so easy to like, you are fair to a fault and will always end up doing your share. Famous people born today: Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Carol Ann Washburn.

We all are artists. Inuit art is one of my favorite.

I admire this lovely Inuit being.

OTTAWA — Kenojuak Ashevak, a once-nomadic artist from Canada’s Arctic regions whose prints and drawings helped introduce Inuit art to much of the world, at her home in Cape Dorset on West Baffin Island in the northern territory of Nunavut. She was 85.

“The Enchanted Owl” by Kenojuak Ashevak.

Kenojuak (pronounced ken-OH-jew-ack), as she was universally known, is probably best remembered for “The Enchanted Owl,” a 1960 print showing an owl with wildly exaggerated feathers and a piercing stare. It became one of Canada’s most famous works of art, appearing on a Canadian stamp in 1970 commemorating the centennial of the Northwest Territories.

Soapstone Carvings

People frequently ask us for ‘soapstone carvings’, but this term is generally a misnomer. When Inuit Artists began sculpting in stone on a larger scale, their art became known as “soapstone carvings,” regardless of the stone used. While it is true that some Inuit carvings are made out of soapstone, other, harder types of stone found throughout the Arctic are much more common: serpentine, dolomite and quartzite on Baffin Island, basalt in the Keewatin Region, argillite or limestone in Artic Quebec, and so on. Using “soapstone” as a generic term to describe all Inuit carvings is therefore misleading. Soapstone is a very soft mineral consisting mostly of talc. If the content is almost entirely talc, it is also known as steatite. It may feel soapy or slightly greasy when touched, hence the name. The colour may range from whitish, greyish-green to different hues of brown. Soapstone is easily carved, but it can also be easily scratched and damaged. It is known to be vulnerable to dampness too. When finished, soapstone carvings may appear to have a dull surface, and artists often apply wax or a greasy substance to give them lustre and protect them from humidity. Originally, artists who made soapstone carvings, recognizing the problem with its softness, would cover their soapstone carvings with a layer of shellac or varnish. Over time, however, this caused soapstone carvings to turn a yellowish colour. Because of this, artists no longer use varnish on their soapstone carvings. Soapstone carvings, because they are softer, generally take less time to make and are therefore less expensive than those made out of harder stone. Marble carvings, the hardest stone, on the other hand, are the most expensive. Soapstone carvings scratch and damage easily. Closest to the soapstone in softness are carvings coming from Arctic Quebec. On Sanikiluaq Islands, artists mostly use local varieties of limestone and argillite. Limestone is a soft sedimentary rock consisting of calcium carbonate and often containing layers of clay silt and sand. Argillite is a very fine-grained grey to black silt stone, sometimes slightly metamorphosed. Carvings from Sanikiluaq Islands are mostly a greyish colour when finished, and the artists will often use black shoe polish to darken them. In spite of their softness, limestone and argillite from Canada’s Arctic region are superior to the regular soapstone both in quality and in hardness. Carvings made of these types of stone can still get scratched and damaged easily, but their graining is finer and their colour more subtle than soapstone. Especially attractive is their distinctive stripped grain, which takes a beautiful polish. Soapstone or steatite, on the other hand, comes in less refined colours which can only be saturated by waxing, but they do not take a high polish.

Did you know?
-Cape Dorset boasts the largest number of artists per capita in Canada (22.7 percent — almost one-quarter of the labor force and thirty times the national average!)
-The word Eskimo is a derogatory term meaning “eaters
of raw flesh”
-Some Inuit artists quarry stone for their sculptures in the winter, but have to wait until the summer to bring it back to their workshops
-An igloo uses the same design principles found in the great cathedrals of Europe
-According to legends, the stone figures, called Inukshuks, protect travelers and point them to the safest pathway
-The Inuit have been carving for over 4,000 years