Work of the Week: Untitled by Helen Kalvak

Date: Jan 10, 2020

    This week’s Work of the Week is an untitled artwork by Inuit artist Helen Kalvak. She designed the piece, which depicts three Inuit figures, for the Northwest Territories’ centennial, which was in 1980.

    About the Artist: Helen Kalvak (1901-1984)

    Helen Kalvak, who produced more than 1,800 drawings between 1962 and 1978 alone, was born on Victoria Island at Tahiryuk Lake and grew up near Prince Albert Sound. During the winters of her childhood, Kalvak lived in igloos built on sea ice, and her family subsisted upon seals in winter and caribou and fish in summer. Her father Halukhit was an angakuq (shaman), and through him, she learned about her natural surroundings and her culture’s cosmology, particularly stories of shape-shifting and animal familiars, which were to inspire and inhabit much of her artistic oeuvre. After marrying singer, dancer, and drummer Edward Manayok, Kalvak sewed and decorated skin dance parkas that she and her husband wore during performances.

    In 1961, Kalvak co-founded the Holman Eskimo Co-operative, and in 1962, her drawings were used for sealskin stencil experiments. The annual Holman Island print portfolios published 176 of Kalvak’s works between 1965 and 1985, and six of them in a retrospective portfolio in 1976, the year after the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts inducted her as a member. In 1978, the same year she became a Member of the Order of Canada, she ceased drawing only because Parkinson’s disease prevented her. The following year, her work was featured by Canada Post on a national postage stamp.