ARTISTIC expression in Canada has taken many and varied forms because of the diverse elements from which our nation has been fashioned. The early French settlers, the British who followed them and more recent Canadians who have come from many parts of Europe and the world have all made their essential contribution to the cultural life of Canada. Few forms of artistic endeavour, however, have attracted wider public interest and enthusiasm, both here and abroad, than work of our Indian and Eskimo peoples. This booklet deals exclusively carvings of the Eskimos, a small but important group in the Canadian population.
Carving has always been an essential part of hunting culture of the Canadian Eskimos. With only natural resources such as stone, occasional pieces of driftwood and ivory and bone with which to make efficient hunting tools, Eskimos, of necessity, became accomplished carvers.
We may be grateful that this skill was not restricted to the manufacture of tools. Since early times, other objects have been carved. Perhaps for magical reasons, for success in hunting, for toys, for amusement, small figures of men and animals were carved in the round. Hunting and domestic scenes were also engraved on stone, bone and ivory.
This booklet outlines the development of Eskimo carving and shows the variations in form and subject of carving and other Eskimo crafts. Like the figures of animals, men and birds, all Eskimo handicrafts are characterised by simplicity and strength. Although all the work produced cannot be classed as art or sculpture, it never fails to provide a fascinating reflection of Eskimo life.
THE Eskimo people of Canada, cheerfully living a difficult existence in a hash climate, have developed over the centuries a unique art form, which today has won for them praise and acclaim wherever their work has been shown.
In an unceasing struggle for food and shelter, which has been their lot, with no wood but driftwood, with not textiles and no vegetable dyes, the Eskimos had few materials with which to create works of art. In consequence, they turned to the stones of their land, from which they were compelled to fashion their tools, as a medium for artistic expression. Out of the lifeless rocks they wrested imaginative and lively forms, depicting not only human beings and animals but also imagined creatures seen only in their dreams. Even today, after more than a century of exposure to European culture, this primitive art persists, original, creative and virile.
By force of circumstances these carvings have always been small. People, who are constantly on the move, pursuing game on which they must depend for the necessities of life, cannot burden themselves with large pieces of sculpture.
In the Igloolik collection of ancient carvings at Churchill, Manitoba, the figures are confined to such objects as human beings, animals or birds. Some of the animals are imaginary creatures, and sometimes human beings are portrayed in caricature. Similarly some of the utilitarian objects are decorated, but no decoration is allowed to interfere with the efficiency of the article itself. At Churchill, also, there is to be seen a caribou antler carved with cartoons of human faces. Antlers have been in this way by Eskimos in every part of the Arctic.