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Nunavut artifacts being sent south
Historic items going to Winnipeg Art Gallery from Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre

Dana Bowen
Northern News Services
Saturday, February 20, 2016

From original Cape Dorset prints to 1970s tapestries, 8,000 Nunavut artifacts that were being stored at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife are being sent south this week to the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG).

NNSL photo/graphic

Luke Palka, manager of production and design for the Winnipeg Art Gallery, holds up a 1974 tapestry created by an artist in Baker Lake. - Dana Bowen/NNSL photo

The Government of Nunavut has provided $500,000 over five years for its collection to be moved from the Yellowknife museum to the Manitoba capital's museum, which already hosts nearly 30,000 pieces of Inuit art - the largest collection in the world.

"What's coming to WAG is close to 8,000 carvings, prints, drawings and textiles and some artifacts which span about 80 years," said Stephen Borys, the museum's director and CEO. "It's a really comprehensive collection. There are works representing all of the key Inuit artists, carvers, printmakers."

The pieces will not all be put on display immediately, said Borys, but curators will pick and choose which ones make their Manitoba debut first.

WAG is working on building a separate Inuit Art Centre in hopes of housing its vast collection.

The 8,000 works from the Prince of Wales museum are on loan to Winnipeg for the next five years, Borys added.

"It is an incredible opportunity for WAG to care for these works for the next few years," he said. "We couldn't have done it without the general support of the Government of Nunavut and we couldn't have done it without the Yellowknife museum."

When Nunavut became its own territory in 1999, the ownership of the materials was passed on to the new territory, but the Yellowknife museum continued to house them and care for them.

Some items have been kept in storage since they were obtained in the 1980s, while others have been exhibited throughout the museum.

Luke Palka, manager of production and design for the Winnipeg Art Gallery, has been packing up items to be sent south for the past five weeks and said he and his team are at "the tail end of it."

"A majority of the collection is sculptures, prints and tapestries," he added. "There's been hundreds of boxes and thousands of works."

The items vary greatly from 1950s Cape Dorset prints to caribou skin clothing, sculptures - including ones by Pangnirtung's Davie Atchealak and Luke Airut from Iglulik - a series of wall hangings from artists such as Baker Lake's Marion Tuu'luq as well as historical objects like the dentistry equipment from the former Chesterfield Inlet hospital.

The collection includes prints that Nunavut has become most known for, said Joanne Bird, curator of collections at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre.

"The heritage centre used to purchase the annual print edition from all the working co-ops, like Cape Dorset, so there's quite a large collection of art from over the years," she said.

During an information session held at the museum Feb. 17, Bird pointed to a table which displayed hand-made dolls.

Many were labelled as having come from Frobisher Bay, before the city adopted its current name of Iqaluit in 1987.

"They are all part of the Inuit cultural collection," she said. "They were put together in the 1970s and early '80s and flew pretty much all over the world from embassies, economic development projects in other countries as ambassadors for Inuit art."

Palka said the Winnipeg gallery hopes to break ground on an Inuit Art Centre by next year.

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