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Marble Style from Cape Dorset

Inuit carvers use hard stone to make their soapstone lamps. The harder the stone the better. It is difficult and time consuming to carve a qulliq (lamp). The qulliq was a very important implement in earlier times as it provided people with heat and light. Both the Dorset and Thule cultures used qulliqs. The traditional stone lamps made from the denser stones last longer and are less likely to crack with the intense heat of the oil lamps.

It’s hard to imagine what the early Inuit would have used to carve the hard stone before having files and chisels. The community today can use their power grinders and Dremel rotary tools. In the 1950's to the mid 1980's people used axes, chisels and files to shape the serpentine stone to create carvings. In the early 80's the grinder was introduced, and when people became skilled with it, they started carving harder stone than the serpentine. They expanded their works into using marble, both white and black, in addition to the serpentine. Marble can be quarried on the surface of the land, near the coast and is accessible at any time of the year for quarrying. The serpentine pits are located in tidal flats or along the coast. These mines are filled with water and have to be pumped out to access the serpentine rock. Thus quarrying the serpentine is limited to the summer months of August and September.

This year in Cape Dorset the community’s serpentine stone supply from the previous summer of mining ran out. Since May this year most carvings have been made from either black or white marble stone. In late July people could get access to the serpentine mines and were bringing it back to Cape Dorset.

The black marble is mined in the Andrew Gordon Bay (Tariungaju) area. A surface outcrop of the black marble makes it accessible for mining through all seasons for the Kinngait community. Black marble is not used frequently for carving because it is a harder stone and takes more time to sculpt. Both black and white marble will wear down the tools faster than serpentine which is a relatively softer stone.

Serpentine is mined at two pit locations by the people of Cape Dorset: Kangirsukutaa (Korok Inlet) and Tatsittuq (Markham Bay). In the pit mines, the stone colour changes from light green to dark green to brown, black. Black stone is often found deeper in the ground. These mines that contain the serpentine are only accessible during the summer after the ground has thawed enough to access the pits. It is hard work to mine the stone using jack hammers, picks and shovels. In some locations the mine pits fill with ground water that has to be pumped out with sump pumps, requiring two sets of generators to power the equipment to access the stone, one generator for the jack hammer and another for the sump pump. Young men shovel silt from the pits in order to access the stone. It can be dangerous work.

Pitseolak Qimirpik, our feature artist, was born on July 26th, 1986 in Iqaluit, Nunavut. He was born in Iqaluit like almost all children born in the community of Cape Dorset after 1975. Very few births still happen in Cape Dorset as there is no hospital in the community. As a child Pitseolak would go out camping and hunting, living on the land during spring and summer with his family. Pits’ grandfather Qimirpik produced some carvings and drawings over his lifetime. His uncle Allashua Atsiaq carved as did his cousin Noo Atsiaq and Pitseloak’s older brother Moe sometimes carves inuksuks.

The biggest influence for Pitseolak has been his father Kellypalik Qimirpik. Kellypallik is well known for his dancing sculptures and Pits likes his father’s dancing musk ox carvings the best. Pitseolak would help his father and mother with filing and sanding his dad’s carvings. Kellypalik went to Polar North in Montreal for a while to carve when Pits was younger. Pitseolak was also in Montreal at that time donating bone marrow for one of his biological siblings, a sister who was adopted out. While he was in Montreal he would spend time watching his Dad carve at Polar North. Pits made an ashtray there from soapstone when he was 11 years old. Back in Cape Dorset, Pits continued to observe and help his Dad and carved a seal when he was 14. Pitseolak used to carve with his cousin Noo when they were both 14 years old and learning together. Pits finished grade 12 and worked as a cashier for 2 weeks and chose to be a full time carver like his Dad. Pitseolak welcomes feedback from his father and uses his critiques to become a better carver.  Kellypalik has had a major influence on Pits’ carving style and themes.

Pitseolak was very close with Kellypalik and escorted his father to cancer treatment in Ottawa during the last year of his Kellypalik’s life. His mom, Ningeorapik, who had also been his dad’s escort passed away from cancer while in Ottawa. During this time, Pitseolak was not carving. When he returned home, he continued to care for his dad until Kellypalik’s death. Pits began carving in Cape Dorset again and continues to honour the legacy of his father with his own work.

Now Pitseolak carves mostly by himself, outside his home. Sometimes younger people help him finish his pieces. He enjoys carving dancing musk oxen, hip hop hares, transformational pieces, dancing bears and drum dancers, woman carrying baby in the amautik or carrying berries, women sewing mitts or kamiks (sealskin boots) and exploring modern themes like his Teen with MP3 player. Pits examines the stone to decide what to make. His preference is to make medium to small size pieces. Pitseolak is dedicated to his art and is willing to take risks and be an innovator.

TD bank added the Teen with MP3 player to their collection in Toronto and used the carving in advertisements. Pitseolak’s recognition expanded, the price for his carvings increased and his artwork has become more in demand. Pitseolak began using power tools right away unlike previous generations who began with hand tools.  He likes variety and is often influenced by his reality of living in the modern north.

Pitseolak has mined stone for himself in the past. Three years ago he went with Nuna Parr and Kovianaqtuliak Tapauangai to mine stone. Pits feels there used to be more of the darker black stone coming from the mines but now stones can be lighter in colour. Pitseolak continues to advance the art form in new directions and plans on carving for the rest of his life.  His work has been exhibited in Canada, US and Europe.

Our newest collection of works from Cape Dorset features the black and white marble stone that can be gathered on Baffin Island as well as the traditional serpentine stone. Pudlalik Shaa delves into the spirit world to bring us breathtaking transformations like Shaman Spirits and Animal transformations. Toonoo Sharky’s diversity is showcased in this collection by his capturing of waves, distinguished wings and metamorphosis. Signature dancing bears by Ottokie Ashoona and his accomplished diving bear with fish are a delight to behold. Ning Ashoona examines her connection to family through her magnificent seals and loon with young. The marble stone is featured in the well carved bears by Ashevak Tunnillie, captivating arctic owls by Joanasie Manning, robust movement in walrus and bears by Alariaq Shaa, gazing and capable bears by Tim Pee, playful dancing bears by Markoosie Papigatok and stunning white marble owls by Adamie Qaumagiak. Master carver Aqsangajuk Shaa presents a dancing walrus memorable in both movement and stone colour in this latest release. The collection also includes new works as well by Joanie Ragee, Sam Qiatsuq, Taqialuk Nuna, Etulu Etidloie, Isa Oqutaq, Kelly Etidloie, Tony Oqutaq and Ulami Tunnillie. Our Small Creations from Cape Dorset 2017 collection is filled with special treasures. Pitseolak Qimirpik pursues his connection to the human and spirit world, dancing wildlife and his respect for transformation and renewal.

We have the most recent Inuit carvings from 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 Aqsangajuk Shaa, Toonoo Sharky, Ashevak Tunillie, Nuna Parr, Joanasie Manning, Ning Ashoona, Pudlalik Shaa, Markoosie Papigatok, Ottokie Ashoona, Kelly Etidloie, Isacie Petaulassie and many others. Our Inuit art sculptures are shipped directly to you from Cape Dorset, Nunavut.  We guarantee the safe arrival of our Inuit carvings.  Please have a look around online or come on out to Cape Dorset to view the sculptures in our gallery.

Small creations from Cape Dorset See our carvings