Hard-rock Nunavut carvers make beauty out of granite
“I now have a new respect for granite carvers”
Each day this past week, after making their way to a garage six carvers in Arviat get into coveralls, toques, boots and gloves, and then put on respiratory masks and goggles.
Within minutes, the room is filled with the sound of power tools, fragments of popular Inuktitut songs from a boom box, and dust from four, four-foot tall, 300-pound, granite blocks undergoing a transformation into carvings.
The carvers, Salomonie Pootoogook of Baker Lake, Jermaine Napayok of Rankin Inlet, Noah Enowyak of Arviat, Abraham Eetak of Arviat, Bill Jar of Coral Harbour, Thomas Angoo of Whale Cove and instructor Jerry Ell worked hard, because by Dec. 2, the carvings they created were to go on display in the hamlet.
This was all part of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association’s stone carving symposium.
The symposium, which got underway Nov. 24, was designed to teach carvers from the Kivalliq region how to carve in granite and to learn from an instructor and each other, said Pascale Arpin, a communications advisor for NACA.
Granite is more unfamiliar to work with because in Nunavut, soapstone is most commonly used.
“The soapstone category actually encompasses a wide range of stones with different hardnesses and colours, like serpentine for example. Other than granite, limestone, and marble, pretty much everything else is considered soapstone,” Ell said.
The challenge here is that granite is a harder stone.
“Granite is more solid. If I start carving a soapstone it feels like butter, but when we carve granite it feels like metal: solid even when you hit it with a chisel,” said carver Bill Jar.
In pairs, the carvers worked through the day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., using grinders, sanders, hammers and chisels. At first they had to flatten the bottom of the stones so they would stand upright.
Then the images began to emerge: Sedna, the sea spirit, with different faces, polar bear paws, inuksuit, a shaman, seals, bowhead whales, and a beluga whale.
“Someone walking in would probably think these were construction workers, but then realize that these are actually artists in the process of creating amazing works of art. While the end result may be beautiful polished sculptures, the process is extremely rugged, dusty and laborious,” Arpin said.
But Abraham Eetak knows about that. The 22-year old has been carving since he was 10 and learned from his father.
Eetak said his experience with the granite workshop has changed his perspective on carving.
“At first glance, it seemed impossible to carve those big rocks, but now after a few days of grinding and chipping, I now have a new respect for granite carvers, because it really is a very long and tiring process to get from just a rock to a piece of art. [There are] still a few days to go and I’m more motivated than ever,” he said.
The carvers stayed focused when working, mainly because power tools can be dangerous if the person using them isn’t paying attention.
Exchanges then, were minimal, except for Ell keeping an eye on things and giving feedback and guidance.
Jermaine Napayok also received that kind of guidance from his father, who taught him to carve.
“There’s not much soapstone where I live, but there’s lots of granite. Now with winter it will be even harder to get soapstone, so it will have to be rocks from the ground like granite. Now I will know how to carve granite,” he said.
Arviat was chosen to host the workshop because NACA “wanted to use a location in the Kivalliq that has had a more difficult time in locating stones for carving,” said NACA’s executive director, Rowena House.
“They primarily work in ivory and bone as it is readily available. So we wanted to work with the artists in the region to develop new skills and also work in the beautification of this particular hamlet,” she said.
The granite for the workshop came from around Arviat, Arpin said.
On the first day of the workshop, the carvers drove around with Ell to look for stones that would do the job. Those stones will now become pieces of public art.