Pitseolak Ashoona: Life & Work by Christine Lalonde
After the death of her husband, she rebuilt her life by learning to draw. “If I can, I’ll make art even after I’m dead,” said Pitseolak Ashoona, who imagined a new vision for herself and the North. Read and download the online art book here: http://www.aci-iac.ca/pitseolak-ashoona
Pitseolak Ashoona moved to Cape Dorset in the late 1950s where she taught herself to draw and was an active contributor to the annual print collection. Pitseolak standing in front of her print “Mother Birds Protecting Eggs,” 1961, in the art centre at Cape Dorset, photograph by B. Korda, 1961.
Pitseolak’s daughter Napachie Pootoogook, depicts herself here with a yellow skirt, her mother in an amauti, and her five brothers (left to right: Qaqaq, Kumwartok, Namoonie, Kiugak, and the youngest, Ottochie), soon after the death of her father, Ashoona. “Napachie’s Family,” 1998–99, Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Terrance Ryan (back row) replaced the artist John Houston at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, and went on to play a vital role in the printshop and the Co-op’s marketing division. From left, front row: Parr, Kiakshuk, Kenojuak Ashevak, Lucy Qinnuayuak, Napachie Pootoogook; second row: Pitseolak Ashoona, Egevadluq Ragee, Pudlo Pudlat. Photograph by B. Korda.
After seeing the drawings and prints created by her elder cousin Kiakshuk and intrigued by the possibility of making a better income, Pitseolak decided to try drawing. Kiakshuk, “Stone Images Mark the Western Sea Route,” printed by Timothy Ottochie.
By the time she was five or six, Pitseolak had travelled with her family thousands of kilometres along the southern coast of Qikiqtaaluk—an experience that would later inform and inspire her art. “Travelling on Foot,” c. National Gallery of Canada.
The artist James Houston and his wife, Alma, were instrumental in developing an arts and crafts program in Cape Dorset initiated by the department of Northern Affairs and National Resources. James, John, Samuel, and Alma Houston in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, 1960. Photograph by Rosemary Gilliat Eaton.
The schooner “Bowdoin” iced in at Idjirituq (Schooner Bay) during the winter of 1921–22. The crew worked with local Inuit—among them Pitseolak’s father, Ottochie—to construct snow domes over the boat’s hatches; the domes provided wind protection while allowing air to circulate into the vessel.
Pitseolak and her husband, Ashoona, moved between camps up to ten times a year, travelling between the main camps of Tariungajuk in the fall and Igalaliq in the summer. “Camp at Igalalik,” printed by Timothy Ottochie.
“It seems like only the men...who were really good hunters...would go to Netsilik because it was so far from shore.” — Pitseolak’s son Kumwartok in an interview in 1979. Pitseolak Ashoona, drawing for print “The River at Netsilik,” c. 1966–76, Collection of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative Ltd.
Pitseolak had “an unusual life, being born in a skin tent and living to hear on the radio that two men landed on the moon,” as she recounts in “Pictures Out of My Life.” “Snowhouse of My Youth,” printed by Quyuk Simeonie.
Pitseolak’s uncle Kavavow arranged for her marriage to Ashoona, whom she had known since childhood. Portrait of Ashoona taken when he was a guide for the naturalist J. Dewey Soper, Photograph by Soper.