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

Woman (part a) holding a beater (part b) in her right hand and is kneeling before an oval container (part d) with an ulu in relief at its centre. There is an ovoid lamp (part e) on two square legs with central sloped groove. There is a square container (part c) on the left and all are pegged to a flat five edged platform (part f). The platform has three right angles, the fifth side is cut diagonally across one end. The woman has very wide flat topped shoulders or hood with a rim at the edge. There are two parallel lines at the hem of cuffs and apron. Inscription on bottom reads 'e9-24 be'. There are holes where seven pegs sit on the platform. The platform is lighter and greyer where the other pieces sit.