About this object

History of use

Contemporary Inuit sculpture produced for the art market began in the 1950's in response to a very successful sale, by the Canadian Handicraft Guild in Montreal in 1949, of pieces collected by James A. Houston on the east coast of Hudson Bay. The Inuit co-operatives developed by 1959 and a central marketing agency was established in 1965. Carving continues to be a major source of income in the Eastern Canadian Arctic, an area which has undergone major social and economic changes, especially since World War II. There has been a steady growth in permanent settlements during the last half of this century which has made large scale carving in stone feasible. Traditionally, carving materials were mainly bone, antler, and ivory, because of their light weight, strength, and durability. Heavier and more fragile stone was used primarily for lamps and cooking vessels. Although Inuit sculpture is often referred to as 'soapstone' sculpture, in fact, less than half of the stone used is soapstone (a high-grade talc or steatite). Other stones commonly used include serpentine, olivine, periodite, chrysolite, and others. In the early years of the industry it was possible to identify where a carving came from by the specific type of stone used, however, in recent years stone is traded on a wider, regional basis. Whale bone, antler, walrus tusk ivory, and a variety of other materials are also used by Inuit carvers. Themes in Inuit sculpture are based on personal experiences and beliefs, derive from oral traditions, mythology, as well as from narrative and figurative themes depicting arctic fauna and scenes of traditional Inuit life. Regional, community, and individual styles are also apparent.


Balshine family collection.

Cultural context

contemporary art

Physical description

Human-like figure (part a) with a bird and an animal head at the ends of raised arms. He stands on the back legs or on a platform behind a partially kneeling bear (part b). The human figure is flattened in cross-section, and is wearing his hood up with the peak to one side. His eyes appear to be almost closed. He has a triangular nose and a straight mouth. The human (part a) has a bird-like figure on his right hand, and a bear- or a fox-like figure on his left hand. The bear is facing forward and has dot in circle eyes below slightly raised ears, whiskers on tapering snout and straight mouth. Bear is standing on front legs, body touches ground and back legs merge into a platform with two holes which hold the man. The inscriptions on the bottom read '1009', 'E9-59' and a series of characters.