THE INUNOO BLOG – Inunoo Textiles
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THE INUNOO BLOG

Creative Inuit Textiles History and How It Thrived Through the years

Inuit textile artists and their designs

The arrival of the Hudson’s Bay Company paired with harsh government policies forced traumatic shifts to the Inuit way of life. This happened during the twentieth century in the Canadian Arctic where families went from living on the land and hunting for their food to living in settlements and their cultural expression harshly controlled.

The formerly independent Inuit people were pushed to depend on store-bought food and items and eventually the state. However, even during these challenging times of cultural disruption, Inuit artists found a way to preserve intergenerational knowledge.

The History of Early Inuit Printed Textiles

Arinik Lovers early Inuit scarf

Legends, the spirit world, and oral histories, all were lived on through expressing in their artworks otherwise discouraged from practicing in their communities. Now, culture and memories can be accessed through sculpture, and graphic print, and textile arts.

The Introduction of Printmaking

In the 1950s most Inuit families were no longer able to sustain themselves through fur-trading. In 1957, printmaking was introduced to the community as part of a government program to encourage handicraft production.

Inuit family of textile artists

The federal government hired James Houston the Area Administrator for South Baffin Island to encourage the production of carving and crafts in the North as well as promote Inuit art in the South. He was also an artist and writer and worked with Osuitok Ipeelee and Kananginak Pootoogook. Together, they started experimenting with fabric and paper printing using linoleum floor tiles cut with simple designs.

The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative

The artworks produced by Houston, Ipeelee, and Pootoogook were released to the public at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in February 1960. It proved to be quite sensational that the artists at Cape Dorset incorporated a co-operative association called the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative (WBEC). It has continued to operate until this day, and co-operatives such as these turned out to be important economic players in Canada’s Northern economy.

West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative

Artists at WBEC made drawings bought by the Co-op, and the printer then interpreted the artists’ ideas to create prints. In fabric printing, printers selected motifs from drawings and other prints. With these, they are interpreted into a design of duplicated motifs or sets of motifs to be produced. Printers and their advisers decide which drawings to make into prints as well as the process of producing them.

The Rise of Inuit Designs

Soon, Kinngait fabric designs were licensed out to companies and designers for various products such as in fashion. In 1970, WBEC manager Terry Ryan asked Toronto-based textile print specialist, Doug Mantegna, to assess whether large-scale fabric printing in Kinngait was viable. However, Mantegna found that it is unsustainable to bring the chemicals, logistics, as well as cost made printing up North.

Eventually, Mantegna and Robert Eaton started a company called Inunoo.

“Of the Inuit People”

“Inunoo.”

This implies the term “Of The Inuit People.” And true enough, the colorful designs on Inunoo’s product line are all styled from original drawings created by Inuit artists.

Inuit art

Inunoo reproduced actual designs on new fabrics for a line of scarves, men’s shirts, and many more over the years. Mantegna takes inspiration from a particular drawing. He extracts and translates elements to create new designs which were approved by the Co-op and the artist or their estate before being put into production.

The project in Kinngait has generated jobs and income for artists and allowed them direct control over the products during the years of the textile printing initiative. The nature of the textiles including the way they were marketed resulted in the product being incompatible with production in Kinngait, leading to its evolution toward the textiles now produced through Inunoo.

Check out Inunoo’s designs.

People of the Canadian Arctic: the Inuits

The Inuits People of the Canadian Arctic

Most Canadian tribes are known for their distinct cultures and ways of life. In the present time, these tribes remained unwavering in their beliefs and tradition, teaching us important values and lessons about their rich heritage.

The Arctic Inuit Culture

Commonly called ‘Eskimos,’ Inuit communities are shaped, adapted, and influenced by the extremely cold and icebound environment in which vegetation was almost nonexistent, trees were scarce, and fish, seal, and whale were the major food source.

As a result of these conditions, inuits invented tools, gear, and other methods to help them survive the cold environment. They even built suitable shelters made of ice called Igloos. Inuits are known for being able to not only survive in some of our planet’s harshest environments but indeed thrive, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Eskimo or Inuit?

Inuits were initially called Eskimos, once erroneously thought to mean eaters of raw flesh, but the name is now believed to refer to snowshoes. The name Eskimo - widely used in reference books and other countries, is nevertheless considered by some Inuits to be offensive.

With many words sullied by the crimes of colonialism, not everyone agrees on what to do with the word Eskimo. Many Native Alaskans still refer to themselves as Eskimo.

But unless you're a native Inuit, the short answer is: You probably shouldn't use the word Eskimo.

The Inuit way of life

For years, Inuit people adhered to their culture of moving from place to place three to four times a year in search of the best spot for sustainable life. Because of this, Inuits were able to catch food and discover suitable resources for survival. For most Inuit groups, they most likely spend their winters inside their houses and only come out to hunt seals and fishes. In between, they’re on the hunt for whatever food nature provides.

They are dependent on their natural environment. In terms of religion, they’re likely to worship nature. Inuits believe that nature is controlled by powerful spirits and worship can pacify its anger. The responsibility to pray for blessing and guidance were mostly left to shamans - priests and medicine men/women for the tribe.

First Peoples of Canada: the Inuits

Many researchers believed that Inuits are the first tribe to predominantly live in Canadian Arctic. Adapting to survive cold weather, they were believed to live for many years, giving birth to other civilizations and tribes. Currently, the Inuits remained patriotic to their culture and ways of living.

People of the Canadian Arctic: the Inuits

The Inuit Art

Inuit Art

The Inuit Art History

The Inuit tribe has their own interpretation of artistry related to their life, culture, and struggles to survive the icebound environment. Inuits mostly rely on their distinct skills and resourcefulness to survive in order to preserve and pass their artistry from one generation to the next.

Carved Object

Most Inuit art pieces were depicted to show their day to day activities like hunting. Since their resources are made from common items found near their communities, hunting, and surviving tools feature a lot in their works of art. The knives that they use for hunting were made from walrus ivory, which is a work of art on its own. Ivory and bones were also used by Inuits to carve on Ice walls and home walls.

Figurines

Being resourceful, the Inuit tribe is famous for their intricate handiwork and elaborate carvings designs. Their works of art also included carved birds, bears, walruses, seals, and human figurines.

Discover Inuit Art

For thousands of years, Inuit Art has been notable for its colorful designs and detailed carvings which were made possible by the resources found while hunting for food and moving from place to place. These works of art were recognized by people and are now displayed as artifacts and relics to preserve the rich heritage of the Inuit culture.