When making art, you have to work with what you've got. When you'd got gold laying around, you can make use of that, and make yourself some pretty stuff. When you've got really big trees growing all over the place, you can carve up some cool poles.

When you live in a frozen, barren wasteland, you don't have much choice of materials. However, despite the lack of materials, and in the face of their harsh living conditions, the Inuit of Northern Canada were still able to create some exquisite art. Some Philosophers might have something to say about that.

They carved ivory, caribou antlers, but in my humble opinion, the best is the soapstone carvings.


Although traditionally the Inuit people mostly carved in bone and ivory, since about the 1940s, they've been shifting towards soapstone. It does, after all, have a much better range of colours, and there's no pesky animal rights activists after you if you use it.

The colour of the soapstone usually ranges from black, to white, to greenish, with various shades of brown in between, and fairly rarely, shades of blue. There are a number of quarries throughout Canada's north that produces soapstone, although honestly a great deal of it is imported from Brazil.

Inuit carvings are pretty much the only art form that is internationally recognized as unique to Canada. Most of it comes from Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories, concentrated on the areas near the coastline.


My father travelled a lot. He's been to 6 of the 7 continents, and usually brought some artwork back with him, when he got the chance. However, one piece that has always had a place on his mantle, probably since before I was born, is an Inuit Soapstone Carving, of a man in a kayak, holding a small spear made out of ivory.

I always liked that thing. On one hand, the detail was impeccable. It was a fairly small piece, the kayak only being about 15 cm long, with the man in the boat maybe 5 cm tall, but the artist had managed to capture the expression on the face.

And I was always amazed at how smooth it was. It seemed to just glide under your fingertips. At least until Mom saw me, then she made me get away from it. Fingerprints and such.


Most Inuit carvings are rather traditional. The majority of them are carvings of some type of animal, seals, walruses, caribou, and especially polar bears are popular. They also have traditional scenes, such as showing Inuit out hunting.

Why is this? Well, it *is* tradition. But then again, tradition is a tradition. Personally, I think it's a combination of that, and the fact that they've got a good market for "Traditional Canadian Inuit Soapstone Carvings!"™ Otherwise, they're just some guy carving random stuff in soapstone, which likely doesn't sell nearly as well.

Either way, they do tend to be rather beautiful pieces of art. If you want to get one of your own, you can find them for as low as $50. Or, if you're going for a really good piece by a well renowned artist, you could be paying thousands of dollars. Personally, I'd expect to pay at least $300.

You should also expect to pay more if you're getting a bone or ivory piece, assuming that you can even get your hands on one.

Anyways, if you do end up purchasing a soapstone piece, you should try and keep it a bit humid. Keep it away from air vents, windows, and out of direct light. It it's kept in too dry conditions for too long, it can crack, which is always a bad thing.


Also, on Nov. 5th, 1995, a man by the name of André Dallaire broke into 24 Sussex Drive, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Canada. Armed with a pocket knife, he snuck past the 3 RCMP officers stationed as guards, and ran into Aline Chrétien, the wife of Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister. She sounded the alarm, and they barricaded themselves in their bedroom, using an Inuit carving of soapstone and ivory to protect themselves, until the RCMP showed up about 7 minutes later.

They're not only beautiful, they're useful too!

Sources:
www.inuitart.org/ias/carvings.htm www.thequestgallery.com/gallery_inuit.html
collections.ic.gc.ca/crafts/SculpCarvEskimo.htm
www.mitiq.com/sanikiluaq-inuit-artists.htm
www3.sympatico.ca/ve3jji/

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