Summary and Photos – Annual Meeting 2010

Bloomfield Hills, MI, Oct 8-10, 2010

Opening – Discussions and Lectures

John Houston and Philip Powers”


The weekend opened with an informal discussion between John Houston and Phil Powers talking about how their respective fathers (James and Eugene) partnered with one another to spearhead the introduction of Inuit art into the United States. The point of entry was the state of Michigan some 57 years ago.

Kananingnak “Kananingnak Pootoogook”

Below are reflections by John Houston regarding Kananginak Pootoogook, who was originally scheduled to appear, but could not because of illness. John is Kananginak’s godson and uniquely qualified to speak on this iconic Inuit artist along with the founding of the Cape Dorset co-op.

  • Sadly, the older generation of artists at Dorset are dying off primarily because of cancer.
  • Kananingnak has a genuine “lust for life” that is reflected in all facets of his art. Hopefully the upcoming, younger generation will carry that on not only with the Inuktitut language itself, but also through the language of art.
  • He was known for his world-class knowledge of inukshuks. Subtleties in shape told different stories. Once an inukshuk is built it becomes a spirit in its own right and needs to be treated with respect.
  • Inuit art is a traditional gift from Canada and some of the provincial governors prized what they called their “northern portfolios” (of Inuit art).
  • Aided by James Houston’s “10 point plan” and “restless innovation”, a print making co-op was formed on Baffin Island. The co-op concept was instantly understood by the Inuit given their communal way of life.
  • Interestingly, while the Anglican church worked hard to eradicate shamanism, it did nothing to extend its cultural arrogance into the realm of native art.
  • Once the co-op was established, John compared art openings in Cape Dorset from the co-op to the “vernissage” (art previews) held in Paris.
  • Should you visit an Inuit home, and particularly a home with art, the compliment you pay them is “how bright” your house is.


Jimmy Manning – Printmaking

Jimmy Manning demonstrated a variety of print making technique stressing that the content chosen by the artist determines the medium.

Other Special Guests

007_8500.jpg Sheila Romalis

Short presentations were made by Sheila Romalis. Sheila, a world class expert on Greenlandic Inuit art and culture, shared some of her travel experiences there. She also talked about a trip she was putting together in 2011 to visit Greenland and welcomed any interested parties.

Rebecca Bergum of Adventure Canada

008_8546.jpg Rebecca Bergum, representing Adventure Canada, presented AC’s upcoming 2011 travel program to the Arctic.

Terry Tarnow of the Dennos Museum Center

Terry Tarnow, Dennos Museum Store Manager, talked about some of the interesting Inuit-related door prizes the Dennos contributed to the meeting.

Those Enjoying the Program and the Marketplace

Cranbrook Inuit Collection

Outgoing President Lane Phillips and Incoming President Janet Beylin

Saturday Night Annual Dinner

Field Trip to the Detroit Zoological Society

A field trip was made to the Detroit Zoo where the Detroit Zoological Society not only provided a lovely reception for program participants, but lead participants on a private viewing of their own Inuit art exhibition entitled “Expressions of Arctic Tradition: Contemporary Inuit Art. This was followed by a tour of the Zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life…the world’s largest polar bear exhibit.

Closing Discussion

“The Way Forward”

The meeting closed with a discussion by John and Jimmy entitled “The Way Forward.”

  • When the Anglicans arrived, they pronounced the Inuit as a people without any spiritual life. They did not acknowledge any spiritual dimension whatsoever and in their arrogance said spiritual life “never existed”.
  • When the opportunity arose in 1948 to create art at the encouragement of James Houston, the Inuit’s spirituality was given a venue to surface.
  • The Anglican church allowed the Inuit to “show” but not “say” or verbalize anything of a spiritual nature.
  • With the production of art, the economics of the Inuit improved which, in turn, allowed young, male hunters to live longer.
  • Inuit children then learned by watching their parents produce art. Sharing is a critical construct of Inuit society.
  • Inuit art today reflects a certain loss of innocence. It is the concept of the “vanishing Eskimo.” The original Eskimo (as depicted in Nanook of the North) no longer exists, although collectors long for the “pure and primitive” to still be reflected in the art.
  • A seal drawn today is not depicted in the same way when seals were the primary source of light, heat, clothing and food.
  • “Bridging” [from old to new] artists are Pudlo Pudlat and Ovillo Tunnillee. Others include Annie Pootoogook and individuals from the Ashoona family.
  • Added to this change in the depiction of subject matter are the changing materials and tools from the south.
  • The experience of young Inuit artists today is very different from that of their elders. So should the art they produce serve the artist or the customer? If you want the artist to be a participant in the subject matter, then Inuit art must evolve.
  • Nonetheless, the current market for Inuit art around the world is based on the old iconography. To some extent, it makes the younger generation of artists fearful to express themselves.
  • We will see a diminution of community-based art which was the driving force behind such artists as Kenojuak and Kananginak.
  • Today’s young artists think of themselves as artists as opposed to someone who engages in subsistence living and then does art on the side for amusement and increased income.
  • It is gratifying to note that the Canadian government in the spring of 2010 announced a program of support to bring about the resurgence of Inuit art including such elements as throat-singing.