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NNSL Photo/graphic

Among the artists who have committed to the Kivalliq Inuit Doll Festival are May Haqpi, left, Emily Nipisa'naaq Alerk, Hannah Killulark, Daisy Avaala and Vera Avaala, of Baker Lake. - photo courtesy of Helen AbenReynen

What a doll

Darrell Greer
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (Dec 21/05) - They may not rival Barbie for a few years, but the traditional Inuit doll is gearing up for a major comeback.

The revival is being spearheaded by a group of doll artists who have formed the Kivalliq Women's Society.

Working under the umbrella of the Pulaarvik Kablu Friendship Centre in Rankin Inlet, the society plans to host a Kivalliq Inuit Doll Festival to develop and promote the tradition of Inuit doll making in the region.

If all goes according to plan, the festival will be held in Rankin in late 2007.

To date, 26 doll artists from Rankin, Baker Lake, Repulse Bay and Chesterfield Inlet have confirmed their participation in the festival.

At least 12 others have expressed interest from Whale Cove, Coral Harbour and Arviat.

The group has also reached a memorandum of understanding with British Columbia's Burnaby Art Gallery to host an Inuit doll exhibit in 2008.

Project co-ordinator Helen AbenReynen says the idea of the doll festival came from the artists, who view it as a way to be properly prepared for the Burnaby exhibit.

AbenReynen has given six months of her time on a volunteer basis to bring the festival together.

"Having doll artists from across the entire region involved with this project is quite exciting," says AbenReynen.

"It's been a lot of hard work and there's still a long way to go, including gathering enough material for different types of dolls.

"But, looking at where we are and where we want to eventually be, we're pretty much on schedule."

As with most art-based projects, the progress made by the society has revolved around secured funding.

The holiday season is also a tough time to schedule meetings on a regional scale, so the society will step up its efforts to bring the artists into closer contact in the new year.

A workshop will be held in Rankin early in 2006 to bring the doll artists together for the first time.

The Hamlet of Rankin Inlet has committed the use of the drop-in centre for the event.

"One of the top priorities of the women involved with this project is to involve as many youth in the communities as we can.

"In addition to the many cultural skills and sense of history the youth will obtain through the instruction of doll artists and elders, this project holds the promise to expand the market for Inuit art through partnerships with the private sector."

Rankin's Helen Iguptak is one of the artists involved with the Kivalliq Doll Festival. Iguptak has been making dolls since the age of six.

Her first doll came about as the result of loneliness and the desire for a toy she could call her own.

"I had to leave my parents behind in Baker Lake to go to school in Chesterfield Inlet," says Iguptak.

"That little doll meant everything to me, but I never did give her a name.

"She was only three or four inches tall, and I made her clothing from the cloth scraps I was able to get from other girls.

"I was away from home in a strange school with nothing else to play with, so I made my own doll."

Iguptak says a doll festival could prove itself to be a major benefit to the region in more ways than one.

She says not only would it highlight the talents of regional artists; it might also get youth across the Kivalliq involved with the craft.

"I wanted to get involved with this to give me something different to work on from time to time.

"I create many other things, such as wall hangings and traditional clothing, so the dolls will provide me with a bit of a break from those."

An Iguptak-made doll averages about a foot in height and can take the artist up to 14 days to complete.

Much of the time is spent on the doll's clothing, with smaller dolls being more difficult to outfit.

"I don't really have a favourite doll, except for the one I made when I was six.

"That one is special because I didn't have my mother with me, so I made it myself with a little help from some older girls at the school.

"Maybe I should have given her a name."