Imagination Takes Shape at the Arctic Museum

Story posted November 15, 2010

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Qiviuk's Journey, William Noah and Martha Ilumigayak Noah, Baker Lake, 1973, 23/50, stonecut and stencil. Photo by Arctic Museum.

Where can you find an Inuit superhero flying on a magic fish, a nightmarish monster, and a mother tenderly cradling her child, all in one place?

These are just a few of the artworks on display in the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum's newest exhibition, Imagination Takes Shape: Canadian Inuit Art from the Robert and Judith Toll Collection. The exhibit opens on Thursday, November 18, 2010, at 8 p.m., with a reception in Hubbard Hall.

Beginning Friday, November 19, the exhibit will be on view during regular museum hours. It will run through December 6, 2011.

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Sea Fantasy, Eli Sallualu Qinajua, Puvirnituq, 1975, soapstone. Photo by Dean Abramson.

Eighty-six works—carefully selected from a much larger collection recently donated to the museum by Robert and Judith Toll—will be on view. The prints and carvings were made in the past 50 years by artists living in communities across the Canadian Arctic. Through these works Inuit artists tell stories about their traditional and changing way of life, capturing everyday activities, depicting episodes in myths and legends, and reflecting on their close family and community bonds.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, Inuit artists approach their work with remarkable imagination. A hunter takes on the appearance of the animal he is hunting, individuals who fill a man's thoughts appear on the page as if they surround him, and on close inspection, dozens of human faces create an igloo, a symbol of family and home.

"These pieces are remarkable," says curator Genevieve LeMoine. "They are engaging on so many levels. People seeing them for the first time are amazed. Every time I look at a carving or a print I discover something new."

Robert and Judith Toll began purchasing carvings and prints made by Inuit artists from the Canadian Arctic in the 1960s. Over the next 40 years they developed a significant collection, unusual for its focus on art from particular communities, especially Baker Lake and Arviat on the west side of Hudson Bay, and on works by multiple generations of artists from specific families.

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Mother and Child, Martha Ikperiak Eckerkik, Arviat, 1968, soapstone. Photo by Dean Abramson.

When the Tolls began to look for a suitable home for their collection, they wanted one where the collection would be used for teaching and research as well as shared in public exhibitions.

"The Arctic Museum has a strong record of using our collections in all of these ways, and involving Bowdoin students at all stages of our work is a priority," notes Susan Kaplan, director of the museum. "This exhibit is a great example of that; students have helped catalogue the collection, research artist backgrounds, and explore exhibition themes. They have been assisting with the installation and are developing some programming around the exhibit. This spring some will be serving as tour guides as well."

Funding for the exhibit and its programs has been provided by the Friends of Bowdoin College, the Canadian Consulate in Boston, Solis LED Lighting, NY, and the Arctic Museum's Russell and Janet Doubleday endowment.

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is located on the first floor of Hubbard Hall on the Bowdoin College campus. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and is closed Mondays and College and national holidays. For more information call 725-3416 or visit the website at bowdoin.edu/arctic-museum.

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