November 30, 2001
The famous 24-by-26-inch stone-cut print by Kenojuak Ashevak of Cape Dorset, "Enchanted Owl (red tail), " made in 1960, sold for $58,650 at an auction earlier this month in Toronto. This is a Canadian record for a print by a Canadian artist at auction

Collectors spend $1.2 million on Inuit art

Inuit prints, sculptures sell for record amounts.

SUSAN GUSTAVISON

TORONTO - Avid collectors spent a record amount of money, $1.2 million, earlier this month at the annual sale of Inuit art at Waddington's auction house in Toronto.

Recently 300 collectors and dealers crowded into room, making bids on over 700 art works and artifacts as auctioneers brought them out for sale.

Duncan McLean, auctioneer and part owner of Waddington's, was ecstatic. He says the record-breaking sale shows that prices for Inuit art are finally reaching the levels they deserve.

"It is going to be hard for art institutions and the general public to ignore Inuit art now, its place in the Canadian market, and how it is positioned in relation to other Canadian art forms like paintings by the Group of Seven and Painters Eleven, artists who are usually considered the icons of Canadian art," McLean said. "The Inuit artists have muscled their way in and I think they deserve it. It's great."

The auction also set three other new sales records.

One bidder paid $58,650 for copy of Kenojuak Ashevak's famed stone-cut print The Enchanted Owl.

In 1960 the West Baffin Co-operative in Cape Dorset released this print. Since it appeared on a 1970 Canadian postage stamp commemorating the centennial of the former Northwest Territories, the print has become a well-known image.

A stone sculpture by the late Puvirnituq artist, Joe Talirunili, The Migration, fetched $87,500- also setting a new high for Inuit sculpture.

The carving shows a group of Inuit paddling a traditional umiaqwith sail was based on a dramatic rescue in Talirunili's own life. Talirunili used this event as an inspiration many times during his artistic career.

Similar carvings are in public collections such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ont.

Bidders also set a new high for a single lot of Inuit art at $186,300 for a complete collection of the 39 prints released in 1959 by the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op in Cape Dorset.

An avid Toronto collector assembled this collection over a number of years.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec has the only other known complete set of that year's collection.

In preparation for the sale, over the past year, Waddington's gathered works sold at the auction from vendors across North America.

Included in the sale were early ivory carvings from Houston, Texas, sculptures from the 1950s and 1960s from an estate in California, a collection from Vancouver, a sizeable number of items from a Toronto collector, and a major sculpture consigned by an American East Coast auctioneer.

In other auction sales collectors from the U.S. have dominated the buying, particularly for the most noteworthy items, but McLean said that this was not the case this year.

"We sold items into Mannheim, Germany, into Paris, France, into the United Kingdom, and of course, into the United States including Texas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington. But we also sold into Regina, Saskatoon, Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and the East Coast," he said.

"The three wall hangings by [the late Jessie] Oonark that went for so much money ($18,400, $17,250 and $21,850) are going to the Canadian prairies. It's amazing how much interest there was."

Apart from the record prices for a few of the major items, the strength of the prices for works by a large number of artists from Nunavut and Nunavik was also remarkable.

The bidding on many older pieces from Inukjuak, Puvirnituq, and Salluit was hotly contested. This included sculptures by known artists such as Davidialuk Alasua Amittu, but also unidentified work of quality.