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Messengers in Stone

A kayaker glides through the sea, geese are flying overhead and a cool wind is starting to pick up. A carefully placed pile of stones comes into view and a distinct rock near the top of the inuksuk juts out to point in a specific direction. A few more collections of rocks have been piled high along the hills with an intended purpose. They all point in the direction of Kinngait. These inuksuit have helped many generations find their way in the barren landscape.

An inuksuk is a collection of stone or boulders arranged on the land or often stacked to communicate a message. The English translation from Inuktitut of the word inuksuk is ‘to act in the capacity of a human’. Inuksuit (plural of inuksuk) can be found throughout the Arctic and have many meanings. They come in different shapes and sizes. A patient builder has arranged rough and flat stones to form a shape.

An inuksuk can be placed on the tundra to assist those living off the land. Hunting guides can indicate a spot where caribou have been plentiful or a food cache is located. An inuksuk can also be in place to frighten the caribou and guide them in a certain direction. A stone figure could indicate a prime fishing spot for Arctic char or other marine animals like walrus, seal and birds. An inuksuk could guide a traveller through a safe passage or warn of a dangerous spot on the sea or the land. An inuksuk can act as a window to draw the observer’s attention to an important spot on the landscape. The rock formations can also be a tribute to a loved one or to show gratitude. They can offer direction or indicate an entry point.

Some inuksuit are ancient and are believed to have been built by the Tunniitt, those who lived on the land before the Inuit. Spiritual places are also marked with stone structures. These are powerful places on the land where shaman communicated with spirits and performed rituals. Much respect is given to these stone markers by the Inuit and some celebrations and traditions continue in these sacred areas.

Knowledge of many inuksuit are passed down from elders to the community through storytelling and songs - sometimes it is intimate knowledge only shared with family while other stone markers are helpful to all. The stone formations collect snow through the colder months and gather lichen in the warm months as they age. Some inuksuit eventually fall down and sometimes the story of an inuksuk is lost forever. These collections of stone are admired for their beauty and the strength of their creator.

Cape Dorset has gone through its own transformation as the people of the community have voted to return to the traditional Inuktitut name of Kinngait. Cape Dorset was a name the community was given about 400 years ago by an English explorer. Kinngait means ‘mountains’ and there are mountains close by called Kinngait Range.

The artists of Kinngait have been expressing their abilities through stone for generations. Isa Oqutaq celebrates tradition with his focus on the inuksuk. Toonoo Sharky tells stories of transformation through his sculptures. Pudlalik Shaa celebrates form and movement with his Arctic wildlife carvings. Joanasie Manning’s stone owls acknowledge the importance of community and survival. Pitseolak Qimirpik explores new forms and brings a fresh perspecitve. Many Cape Dorset artists have contributed to our collection this year including Mathew Flaherty, Ning Ashoona, Kelly Etidloie, Pootoogook Jaw, Pitseolak Qimirpik, Ottokie Samajualie, Markoosie Papigatok, Tony Oqutaq, Alariaq Shaa, Alashua Sharky, Isacie Petaulassie, Kiliktee Kiliktee, Taqialuk Nuna, Pauloosie Tunillie, Samonie Shaa, Johnnysa Mathewsie, Ottokie Aningmiuq, Adamie Qaumagiaq and Tim Pee.

We have the most recent Inuit carvings from Kinngait formerly known as Cape Dorset. Many of the Inuit sculptures have been carved within the last few months made from soapstone or marble that is mined from stone quarries on the South Baffin Island coast. We have carvings by Kelly Etidloie, Ashevak Adla, Toonoo Sharky, Joanasie Manning, Ning Ashoona, Pudlalik Shaa, Noah Jaw, Markoosie Papigatok, Ottokie Ashoona, Tony Oqutaq, Ottokie Samajualie, Isacie Petaulassie and many others. Our Inuit art sculptures are shipped directly to you from Kinngait, Nunavut, Canada.   Have a look around online or come on out to Kinngait to view the sculptures in our gallery.

Small creations from Cape Dorset See our carvings