Arctic Museum Receives Collection of Inuit Art from Rabbi Sky

Story posted March 17, 2011

Rabbi Harry Z. Sky, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth El in Portland and a resident of Falmouth, Maine, has donated his collection of Canadian Inuit Art to the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and Arctic Studies Center.

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Shaman, transformation in green, Turatura Ragee, 1997.

This donation is a significant contribution to the museum’s growing collection of Inuit art.

The Rabbi Harry Z. and Ruth L. Sky collection of 36 sculptures and two prints comes from communities across the Canadian Arctic and includes pieces by many well known artists, such as Kenojuak Ashevak and George Arluk.

Many of the pieces depict transformations.

“Inuit artists frequently depict humans and animals in the act of transformation,” says Susan Kaplan, the museum’s director. 

“A figure may appear to be a composite person and bird, or a musk ox may have a raven’s beak.”

Rabbi Sky is particularly drawn to this imagery, which reflects both spiritual and mythical aspects of Inuit culture.

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Muskox/bird transformation.

He is also attracted to pieces expressing a joyful life, such a youngster doing a handstand.

Inuit art is not something we expect a rabbi to be deeply interested in, but Rabbi Sky has spent his life defying traditional expectations.

In Inuit art he has found imagery that resonates with his beliefs, in particular the idea that people are continually changing, transforming themselves throughout their lives.

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Standing figure with fur, Rankin Inlet.

Rabbi Sky has worked for change on many levels throughout his long career.

He was awarded the inaugural Catalyst for Change Award in 2007 by the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine for his championing of human rights.

He was also a founding member of Maine’s Senior College, now the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, at the University of Southern Maine.

This donation marks the 50th anniversary of Rabbi Sky’s arrival in Maine.

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Handstand, 1974.

In the spring, the Arctic Museum staff hopes to work with Rabbi Sky to document his interpretations of these pieces of art, followed by an exhibition of some of the works in the next few years.

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum has recently been the recipient of other gifts of Inuit art, including a large donation by Robert and Judith Toll.

The Toll collection is the subject of the current exhibit, Imagination Takes Shape: Canadian Inuit Art from the Robert and Judith Toll Collection, on view until late fall of 2011.

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