Cape Dorset Day 2
Today began with getting bundled up, which takes me far to long, and then walking over to the Co-op to watch the artists at work. I wanted to really experience the artists at work in the print shop and therefore made the personal choice not to take photographs so you are left to take my word for it that it is an amazing place! *
The studios are in two buildings across the street from each other. One building is where Lithography and drawings, among other techniques, take place, while the second building is where the stone-cut process is conducted and contains the original studio area that Co-op started in. In the stone-cut building there were several men working on stone-cut prints. An older gentleman was setting up a plate, with a beautiful whale on it, for a first print. At the same time the man set up the plate another wonderful gentlema, Qavavau Manomie, was stenciling a large edition of prints. According to Bill "Qavavau Manomie was the printer printing the big Kenojuak print with the ravens and owls and he may have traveled to Germany and the US but he was trained by Pee Mikkigak a master printer that has since passed on." It was enthralling to watch him work. His arm must be quite strong, as the stenciling process seems rather intense and time consuming. He had been working on the edition since September and I had to wonder if he was sick of the process. Another gentleman, Napache Ashoona and he is an apprentice to Qavavau, had just begun working at the Co-op and was finishing off a border with colored pencils on an edition of prints with a beutiful shell drawing by Qavavau.
I had no idea how much of the prints were done by hand, and not with a press. The Co-op owns "four large Charles Brand litho presses and two Etching presses" but according to Bill "the stone cut process does not require a press and everything is done in the Japanese tradition, by hand."** For some reason mistakenly assumed that one would pull a print and then move onto the next. However, there were many fine hand done details being added to the prints after pulling them from the plate. In the litho area a really nice man was beginning to work on changing a drawing into a print. Bill, the studio manager, showed me some of the drawings kept in the shop; needless to say they were exquisite. Almost all of the drawings were in colored pencil, but I have never seen colored pencil act the way it does in these drawings. They surfaces have a jewel like quality that makes one want to look at them as much as possible, as if one can not get enough no matter how long one looks. Qavavau is also an amazing drawer. His drawings are so much about the land, not the usual animals, and have a quiet, still air about them. I have to say I adored the drawings and wished I was rich, and careful, enough to take one home to keep. Bill told me "Ohotaq in the back room (of the Litho studio) has drawn most of his adult life and never had a show, as soon as he started to draw on the four foot by eight foot papers his work was in demand so much so that we cannot keep up with the demand!" Needless to say I have boundless respect for their talent, ideas, and perspectives as artists and people.
At 10:00 sharp everyone in the shop walked over to the stone cutting shop for a coffee break. All of the men sat down in front of the four windows, looking onto the town center, and watched the people walking by. For some reason it reminded me so much of Mike Collins going to get coffee every day with his friends, and of Plush/Adel. Honestly there are some parts of Cape Dorset that seem so much like Adel and Plush that is surprises me. There are also many differences as well. Everyone in the shop was so wonderful to me, but it was still a challenge for me not to feel in the way and incredibly shy about my presence.
At noon I headed over to Kristiina's house for lunch where I was treated to a meal of beluga whale. The process of eating it was a bit complicated as one hat to first remove the extra fat and then cut striations into the meet to make it digestible. It was served cold, very much like sushi. One puts a small, striated piece into the mouth and chews a few times before swallowing. One is not supposed to chew it too much as it begins to take on an unpleasant flavor after a bit. I can say I would choose lobster over whale any day, but it was very interesting. Following that delicacy we had a small caribou meat sandwich. I find I am quite hungry all of the time even though I am eating much more than usual.
Ita, my tour guide for the day, picked me up at Kristiina's house and took me for a walk around the community. The town was actually much larger than I had originally thought, although still not big. The population is around 1,400 people, but there is a severe housing shortage so there are not even close to that many houses. Some of the small homes have 13 or more people living in them, which begs the question "where are the new babies coming from?" But I guess where there is a will there is a way. The town had four police officers, all from out of town, which seemed like a lot for such a small population. Ita took me to the grocery stores where she showed me that a tin of baby formula was $45.00. I could not believe it. Four oranges were $8.00, not including tax.
While in the store and while we were walking out of another building I was asked by young men if I wanted to buy earrings and a hair decoration. It was strange, and I politely declined. I love learning and seeing all of the art, but I am not a collector of objects; I do however, have a stronger desire to collect memories and experiences during my time here. Ita took me around to meet many of the men who carve; only men carve and hunt for the most part. She made her husband go out and work at noon so that I could see someone working as the weather was very nice and people don't like to carve when there is not wind. The wind takes away the dust from the stone so that one's lungs are not invaded by the stone particles. Her husband is an amazing artist who makes dancing walrus and transformation sculptures. His father is also a well-known sculptor.
There were a couple of men working outside, but they quickly lost interest in me when I said I wasn't interested in buying any work. Apparently it only takes a day to make a piece using electric tools and many rush to finish one in a day to sell to the Co-opt and get money for the very expensive cost of living. After seeing what can me done in only a day I wish I could see what could take place if the artist was not living from pay check to pay check and was able to take their time.
During our walk through town we stopped at the community center where they were preparing seal hide to make into boots. It brought back memories of Brandon Johnson's shop where he prepared various pelts of local Lake County animals. I guess animal skins all smell similar in the preparation process. After a while Ita and I continued our meandering around the town where she showed me a polar bear pelt drying outside of a house. It was so beautiful and quite striking to see in person. Apparently they give out only 10 tags a year, per community I think, but am not sure.
We finally headed back to my hotel where Ita dropped me off and I quickly feel fast asleep. I woke up in time to bundle up for dinner at six at Kristiina's house. Her daughter Helen is one of my favorite people I have met here. She is so soft spoken, but I have a feeling she has a wicked sense of humor, and is always very good about keeping me included in the family conversations. Dinner was delicious fried chicken and rice, even better with my new knowledge of its cost. After dinner some family dropped by and the house was full of three children playing and the parents catching up with one another. I headed home around 8:30pm completely worn out and full.
I haven't been able to see the Northern Lights yet as the clouds crowd into the valley just as the sun goes down each day, but I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will get to see them before I leave on Friday.
*To be clear one can take photos at the Co-op with the artist's permission, but as an artist it would make me seriously uncomfortable if someone were doing that in my studio; plus I really wanted to be in the moment of this onece in a lifetime oppourtunity, rather than acting like a tourist taking loads of photos and missing out on the amazing reality of the situation.
**Quoting Bill Ritchie studio manager of the Co-op