Kinngait Studios in Kinngait (Cape Dorset, Nunavut), operated by the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative, is recognised around the world for its highly successful printmaking program. Building on centuries-old Inuit graphic traditions, printmaking was introduced in Kinngait in 1957 as part of a larger Canadian government program. Its aim was to encourage handicraft production in the north for sale in the south as an alternate means of generating employment and income for the Inuit. Traumatic changes to the Inuit way of life in the mid-20th century forced families to transition from subsistence hunting and trapping to a wage economy in settled communities. By the 1960s, the studio had a number of Inuit artists who contributed to the Kinngait Studios’ print program which included a commercial hand-printed fabric enterprise.
The graphic cotton and linen fabrics that were produced are a physical record of a relatively short-lived experimental project undertaken in the early days of the Co-op. Fabric printing was only one of many initiatives Co-op art adviser and general manager Terry Ryan promoted. A largely undocumented area of production which took place alongside the early fine art printing experiments, the textiles printed with artists’ designs nonetheless represent an essential part of the history of Kinngait print and visual culture in the mid-20th century and have important relevance today. Recently, a collection of over 200 of these printed textiles was transferred to the Textile Museum of Canada, which is currently working with the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative and the Kinngait community to develop a touring exhibition.
Throughout the active years of the textile printing initiative in Kinngait, efforts were made to keep the production at Kinngait Studios where it created jobs and income for artists and printers and afforded them direct control over the products. Ultimately, the initiative proved not to be viable, leading to its evolution toward the textiles now produced through Inunoo.
Extract from Roxane Shaughnessy and Anna Richard's article On The Edge in the current issue. We have a special limited edition Inunoo Enchanted Owl scarf to give away to one reader, worth £150. Enter here. Subscribe to Selvedge here.