Beaver Hats to Hockey Pads: A Social History of Felt in Canada (redux)

10. Inuit

Neevingatah, a unique art  form…

Wall-hangings or neevingatah (meaning “something to hang” in Inuktitut) are not as well-known as soapstone carving and print-making, but they follow the same craft tradition in Inuit art, focused mainly in Baker Lake (Qamanituaq).

Like many towns in Nunavut, Baker Lake began as a settlement. The Hudson’s Bay Company opened a trading post in 1916, and soon after institutions such as churches, schools and medical facilities followed, forcing the Inuit to change from a traditional nomadic lifestyle to one of economic dependency.

During the 1950s and 1960s government-sponsored craft programs were established to boost local economies across the North. These were something of a double-edged sword as they fostered creativity and provided work, but were controlled by markets in the South. However, some outsiders were influential in establishing models for Inuit self-governance including Jack and Shiela Butler, who in 1971, helped found the Sanavik Cooperative which has since grown to become an Inuit-controlled business that serves a number of vital functions within the Baker Lake community.

Sewing is an age-old survival skill for the Inuit. For centuries women have transformed hides into clothing and shelter. Felt, like duffel and stroud, was a foreign material introduced to Inuit through the craft programs, and was embraced and transformed through ancient tradition. After making popular items like mittens and socks, the women of Baker Lake used the remnant multi-coloured cloth to illustrate stories through appliqué. These wall-hangings are a unique art form in Canada, expressing tales of adaptation, transformation and survival.

1977.43

Untitled by Jesse Oonark, image from Pubic Trustee for Nunavut, estate of Jessie Oonark, 1977, all rights reserved

Jessie Oonark, one of the biggest names in Inuit art settled in Baker Lake. She among many, have passed on these new traditions to the next generation. KW

9. American Influence and Affluence 11. Rural Living