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

Large female head, horizontally aligned with a smaller, horizontally aligned male (?) head on the opposite side. The larger head is surrounded by a parka-like hood. The facial plane slopes back and there is a hand at the top emerging from the hood and resting on her cheek. V-shaped hairline and numerous v-shaped tattoo lines from chin to below eyes. Broad nose nostrils is also tattooed. Four vertical lines on forehead. Circle in oval eyes and tongue extends from wide mouth slit. Smaller head has asymmetrical hairline, circle in oval eyes, large nose with broad nostrils, a sharply downturned mouth, and possibly a moustache. Carving marks show faintly overall. Oblong base has disc number E9-1456 inscribed. Four pieces of worn green felt on bottom.