Pitseolak Ashoona

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Pitseolak Ashoona
Born ᐱᑦᓯᐅᓛᖅ ᐊᓲᓇ
1904 or 1907 or 1908
Died 1983
Cape Dorset
Nationality Canadian
Known for Sculptor
Spouse(s) Ashoona
Awards Order of Canada
Elected Royal Canadian Academy of Art

Pitseolak Ashoona, CM (1904 or 1907 or 1908–1983; Inuktitut syllabics:ᐱᑦᓯᐅᓛᖅ ᐊᓲᓇ) was an Inuit Canadian artist admired for the unpretentious authenticity in her works. She was also a member of the Royal Academy of the Arts.


Pitseolak was born to Timungiak and Oootochie on Nottingham Island in what is now Nunavut. Her name means "sea pigeon" in Inuktitut.[1] She grew up with the traditional life of hunting, gathering and shamans. She was part of one of the last generations of Inuit who grew up with the traditional lifestyles enjoyed by the North American Inuit since before 1000 BC.

Marrying Ashoona, a hunter, in 1922 in the Foxe Peninsula of Baffin Island, they raised 17 children, five of whom survived past infancy.[2] Four she raised herself after her husband Ashoona the hunter died from a viral sickness age 40, leaving her all alone with a handful of children; Kumwartok, Qaqaq, Kiawak, and daughter Napawchie Pootoogook.

Pitseolak died on May 28, 1983 in Cape Dorset. She was survived by a large family of artists, including:

  • Napatchie Pootoogook, graphic artist — daughter.
  • Qaqaq Ashoona ("Kaka") (1928–1996), sculptor — elder son[3]
    • Ohitok, sculptor — grandson
  • Kiawak Ashoona (born 1933) ("Kiugak"), sculptor — son[4]
  • Kumwartok Ashoona, sculptor — son[3]

Artistic career[edit]

Pitseolak's cousin, Kiakshuk and James Archibald Houston both inspired her to try her hand at drawing, then copper plates, a technique she did not enjoy.

In the last two decades of her life, she assembled a collection of over 7,000 images, 233 of which became prints in her Cape Dorset Collection. Illustrating life pre-contact, "the things we did long ago before there were many white men."[5] Her artwork focuses on both daily life and legends, or Taleelayu. Pitseolak was inspired by other artists in her community that started before her, "I don't know who did the first print, but Kiakshuk, Niviaksiak, Oshawetok and Tudlik were all drawing at the beginning. I liked the first prints… because they were truly Eskimo."[6] Pitseolak was accepted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1974 and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1977 for her work. “Through the following decade and until her death in 1983, Pitseolak continued to draw, and to work with new media. An arts grant awarded to her in 1975 sparked experimentation in a new medium - acrylic paint on canvas. Initially, she approached painting like drawing, outlining in pencil and then filling in with colour. As she gradually adapted to the nuances of the medium, she began laying down bold colours side by side to achieve her vivid affect."[7] Pitseolak found prints to be the most challenging as she states in Dorothy Harley Eber's book Pitseolak: Pictures of My Life; "To make prints is not easy. You must think first and this is hard to do. But I am happy doing the prints."[8]

In 1973 she narrated her story in the National Film Board's animated documentary Pictures out of My Life, directed by Bozenna Heczko and based on interviews from Eber's book.[9][10] Pitseolake was also featured on a stamp, issued on March 8, 1993 and designed by Heather J. Cooper, in commemoration of International Woman's Day.[11]


  1. ^ "Pitseolak Ashoona 1904-1983". http://www.gallery.ca. National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  2. ^ "PITSEOLAK (Pitseolak Ashoona)". http://cwahi.concordia.ca. Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. August 6, 2012. Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  3. ^ a b Routledge, Marie (July 2, 2006). "Qaqaq Ashoona". http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Historica Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  4. ^ Routledge, Marie (July 2, 2006). "Kiawak Ashoona". http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Historica Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  5. ^ "Inuit Art." Canadian Encyclopedia.
  6. ^ Eber 37
  7. ^ Pitseolak Ashoona: The Pictures, 2
  8. ^ Eber 45
  9. ^ Eber, Dorothy Harley (July 2, 2006). "Pitseolak Ashoona". http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca. Historica Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  10. ^ "Pictures Out of My Life". http://onf-nfb.gc.ca. National Film Board of Canada. 1973. Retrieved March 10, 2015. 
  11. ^ "Pitseolak". Famous Canadian Women on Stamps. Retrieved 2014-07-24.