Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum
Treasures and Trinkets: Collecting Culture in the North
October 29, 2003 - August 28, 2005
Arctic Museum main galleries
Treasures and Trinkets: Collecting Culture in the North examines the way northern craftspeople responded to the increasing demand for trade items from travelers. Trading was one of the first activities that took place between Inuit and early European explorers and by the nineteenth century, when tourists were just starting to travel to places like Alaska in large numbers, Native groups had developed a repertoire of objects they knew would be appealing to the visitors. While fur traders and whalers were interested in unprocessed natural products such as furs, whale oil, and ivory, there was also a steady demand for objects created by the people they encountered, to serve as mementos of their travels, examples of different lifestyles, and even as specimens for museums. Treasures and Trinkets includes examples of all of these, from a large-scale model kayak that is six feet long, to tiny ivory carvings, dolls, beadwork, and miniature sledges and boats.

The exhibit also shows how historic circumstances in different parts of the Arctic led to distinctive contemporary craft traditions in Alaska, the Canadian Arctic, and Greenland. Women in Greenland have developed a craft called avigtat embroidery, for example, that is unique to the area. They decorate bags, boots, and other objects with tiny squares of brightly colored leather in geometric patterns. In the Canadian Arctic, sculptors and graphic artists have made Inuit art known around the world, while in Alaska, ivory carvers, basket weavers, and mask makers create a range of objects that combine traditional and contemporary ideas. All of these arts and crafts have their roots in traditional material culture, often stretching back thousands of years, but they are firmly part of the contemporary world of the Inuit.

Pictured above: Walrus Dancer, Isaac Kayuk, King Island, Alaska, 1987. Ivory. Museum purchase. Photo by Dean Abramson.
Dolls: In Labrador, Innu women create dolls stuffed with loose black tea, said to be modeled on children’s toys from a time when the tea served as a back-up supply for families hunting far from trading posts.  <br> <br>  Innu hunter tea doll, Mary Rose Selma, Sheshatsheits, Labrador, 1999. Caribou hide, cotton broadcloth, glass beads, wool, black tea. Museum purchase.
Ancient Decoration: Vivid red insets and detailed mosaic called avigtat embroidery have been a part of women’s pants in Greenland since at least the eighteenth century.  <br> <br>  Women's pants, Inuit, Greenland, circa 1940. Sealskin. Gift of Miriam Look MacMillan.

Kayaks: Greenlandic kayak models are often fitted out with all the equipment a hunter might need, and sometimes even include the hunter himself. This hunter is wearing a waterproof sealskin anorak, which will keep him dry if he must roll his kayak.   <br> <br>  Model kayak with hunter, Inuit, South Greenland, early 20th century. Wood, hide, sinew ivory. In Memory of Commodore John F. Baylis, U.S.C.G..
The European Influence: Danish colonists in Greenland had a strong influence on the kinds of crafts people created for sale. More than in other parts of the Arctic, Danish colonial administrators provided Inuit artists with typically European materials, such as oil paints, and created a demand for objects which combined “exotic” Inuit elements and familiar European characteristics.   <br> <br>  Butchering a seal, Laurids Jensen,  West Greenland, 1927. Watercolor. Museum purchase.

Animals of Ivory and Bone: Alaskan carvers have worked with  ivory, antler, and bone  for thousands of years, creating beautiful and often intricate pieces, utilitarian objects as well as items for sale. Such carvings are typically small, their form restricted by the size and shape of the material.   <br> <br>  Walrus Dancer, Isaac Kayuk, King Island, Alaska, 1987. Ivory. Museum purchase. Photo by Dean Abramson.
Coiled Grass Baskets: Historically, Yup'ik women in south Alaska made many types of baskets. These were used to carry and store a variety of objects, from fish to clothing. Beginning around 1920, Yup'ik basket makers began to make coiled grass baskets such as this almost exclusively. They were created primarily for sale to tourists and collectors.    <br> <br>  Basket, Agnes John, Alaska, 1988. Grass, dyed gutskin. Museum purchase.

By the late nineteenth century, imported trade goods themselves became souvenirs. Langdon Gibson traded for these ivory carvings while he was a member of Robert E. Peary's 1891-92 expedition to Greenland.   <br> <br>   Woman, sailor, Inuit, circa 1890. Ivory. Gift of Elizabeth Gibson Ferry.