1904 or 1907 or 1908
|Known for||Drawing, prints|
|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. 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 for centuries.
In 1922 (or 1923), Pitseolak married Ashoona, a hunter, in the Foxe Peninsula of Baffin Island. They had 17 children, though only six (Namoonie, Qaqaq, Kumwartok, Kiugak, Napachie, and Ottochie) lived with Pitseolak until adulthood. Some died in childhood, and others were adopted out according to custom, and raised by other Inuit families. Pitseolak raised four of the children, Kumwartok, Qaqaq, Kiawak, and daughter Napawchie Pootoogook, herself after her husband died from a viral sickness at the age 40. Years of hardship followed the death of Ashoona, which occurred sometime in the early to mid 1940s. It coincided with the early years of the Second World War and a decline in the market for furs.
The tragic loss of Ashoona would become the catalyst that, over time, lead Pitseolak to become an artist. Making prints eased her loneliness and she described her art as what made her "the happiest since he died". Pitseolak's artwork later enabled her to support her family, and though it was incited by painful circumstances her art reflected mostly positive memories and experiences. As Christine Lalonde notes in Pitseolak Ashoona: Life & Work: "scenes of deprivation and suffering almost never appear in her drawings, though certain images convey sadness and longing" about the passing of Ashoona.
Pitseolak is recognized as one of the first Inuit artists to create autobiographical works. Her art contained images of traditional Inuit life and contributed to the establishment of a modern Inuit art form, one that transmitted traditional knowledge and values while at the same time achieving worldwide popular and commercial success.
Pitseolak died on May 28, 1983 in Cape Dorset. She was survived by a large family of artists, including:
- Napatchie Pootoogook, graphic artist — daughter.
- Annie Pootoogook, (1969-2016), artist; granddaughter
- Qaqaq Ashoona ("Kaka") (1928–1996), sculptor — elder son
- Ohitok, sculptor — grandson
- Kiawak Ashoona (born 1933) ("Kiugak"), sculptor — son
- Shuvinai Ashoona, (born 1961) artist, granddaughter
- Kumwartok Ashoona, sculptor — son
Pitseolak Ashoona was one of the first artists to make drawings for the print studio in Cape Dorset in the early 1960s. She was a self-taught artist, who worked out solutions to artistic problems through what Lalonde described as "a self directed-program of repetitious drawing".
Initially Pitseolak worked sewing and embroidering goods for sale as part of the arts and crafts program initiated by the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources, and introduced by James Archibald Houston and Alma Houston at Cape Dorset in 1956. However, upon seeing the work of her cousin Kiakshuk (1886–1966) who was part of the Cape Dorset graphic studio, Pitseolak decided to take up drawing. Her early work was well received and she soon became one of the most popular artists creating images for the Cape Dorset print collection.
First working with graphite pencil, Pitseolak would later move on to coloured pencil and felt-tip pens, which, according to Lalonde, became her favored medium because their "rich and vibrant colours" best expressed "the joyfulness that characterizes her work".
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." 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." 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.— The Pictures
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." Though not active as a printmaker, Pitseolak’s drawing process did however extend to working directly on copper plates and, to a lesser degree, lithographic stones.
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. Pitseolak was also featured on a stamp, issued on March 8, 1993 and designed by Heather J. Cooper, in commemoration of International Woman's Day.
- "Pitseolak Ashoona 1904-1983". National Gallery of Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
- "PITSEOLAK (Pitseolak Ashoona)". Canadian Women Artists History Initiative. August 6, 2012. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
- Lalonde, Christine (2015). "Pitseolak Ashoona: Life and Work". The Art Canada Institute. Art Canada Institute.
- Routledge, Marie (July 2, 2006). "Qaqaq Ashoona". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
- Routledge, Marie (July 2, 2006). "Kiawak Ashoona". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
- Swinton, George (March 4, 2015). "Inuit Art". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada.
- Eber, Dorothy Harley (2003). Pitseolak: Pictures Out of My Life (second ed.). McGill-Queen's University Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-7735-2565-8.
- Ashoona, Pitseolak (2003). The Pictures. Feheley Fine Arts. p. 2.
- Eber 2003, p. 45
- Eber, Dorothy Harley (July 2, 2006). "Pitseolak Ashoona". The Canadian Encyclopedia (online ed.). Historica Canada. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
- "Pictures Out of My Life". National Film Board of Canada. 1973. Retrieved March 10, 2015.
- "Pitseolak". Famous Canadian Women on Stamps. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
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