Nunatsiaq Online
FEATURES: Iqaluit August 18, 2017 - 10:00 am

Hammering out traditional oil lamps in Nunavut’s capital

"Being taught by an expert like Mathew is a great honour”

BETH BROWN
Kelley Oliver, right, cuts out metal pieces to make a qulliq, Aug. 15. (PHOTOS BY BETH BROWN)
Kelley Oliver, right, cuts out metal pieces to make a qulliq, Aug. 15. (PHOTOS BY BETH BROWN)
Artist Mathew Nuqingaq demonstrates how to make a metal qulliq during a workshop sponsored by the GN Department of Environment.
Artist Mathew Nuqingaq demonstrates how to make a metal qulliq during a workshop sponsored by the GN Department of Environment.
Torsten Diesel hammers edges into what will be the bowl of his metal qulliq.
Torsten Diesel hammers edges into what will be the bowl of his metal qulliq.

Mathew Nuqingaq hammers a crease into a half circle of sheet metal so he can bend it into a bowl shape.

While traditional qulliq lamps are made from stone, “when the metal came north, it became a normal thing,” said the Iqaluit artist who hosted a metal qulliq making workshop at his Aayuraa Studio in the city’s Lower Base neighborhood Aug. 15.

The do-it-yourself event was part of the Government of Nunavut’s summer “Learn To” series, run annually through the Department of Environment. 

“’Learn to’ programs are about connecting Canadians to the outdoors. It’s a way for Nunavut Parks to encourage people to get outdoors,” said Leesee Papatsie, manager of parks, heritage appreciation, for the GN’s environment department.

It’s the third year for the weekly Tuesday workshops, and this year “there’s been a lot more traditional Inuit skills that we’ve been doing this summer,” she said.

Other workshops have taught participants to make kakivaks, or fishing spears, and to dry fish, or pitsi, as well as to photograph the impacts of climate change and to learn traditional uses for Arctic plants. 

“We try to make the program hands on,” Papatsie said. 

The Aug. 15 project was going to focus on ulu making, but the qulliq project was arranged with Nuqingaq when ulu making fell through. 

About 20 people came out for the event and it couldn’t have been a better day: sunny and 14 C.

After watching a tutorial by Nuqingaq, guests spread out around the small studio and on the deck to craft their own qulliit. There was lots of focused concentration as well as friendly banter between local and visiting participants. 

Kelley Oliver, visiting Iqaluit for the week, said the trickiest part was softening the edges of the sharp metal so you wouldn’t cut yourself.

He’s also never used a qulliq. “I’ll have to figure out how you actually use one and will bring it back home to Ottawa,” he said.

Nuqingaq said wearing gloves was one of the most important parts of working with metal. Despite the precaution, it wasn’t long before a box of Band-Aids surfaced. 

For added safety, young children wore headphones to muffle the percussive clashes, clangs and clings that rang loudly through the crowded workshop.

“It’s an interesting way to expose people to different aspects of Inuit culture,” said participant Torsten Diesel. 

“The metal qulliq is an interesting amalgamation of traditional techniques and modern techniques, and being taught by an expert like Mathew is a great honour,” he said.

Nuqingaq is well known in Canada for his metalwork, and, in December, he was named a member of the Order of Canada.

Josh Komangapik enjoys the sunshine while making his qulliq Aug. 15 in Iqaluit.
Josh Komangapik enjoys the sunshine while making his qulliq Aug. 15 in Iqaluit.
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