John and Joyce at their home, July 2022.
My first encounter with Inuit art in the early 1970s was a pure coincidence. I saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a sale of Inuit prints at the Snow Goose, a local (Seattle) art gallery. I read the announcement on the way to work and went to see the exhibition at lunch. I was intrigued. Having been a print collector for much of my life, I knew what was involved in making a print. I was familiar, therefore, with the medium from my other collections, including works by Toulouse Lautrec, but these works seemed extraordinary. I returned to the office and then called in to purchase one of the prints. This was the beginning of a long love affair with the artists and art of the Canadian Inuit!
I began collecting only prints and works on paper, as this keyed into my Toulouse Lautrec collection of lithographs. I loved the idea of the Inuit using local stone (initially) as a matrix and using traditional carving skills to create stonecut prints. I understood the work that went into making one of these stonecut prints as well as the talent involved in creating both these and the amazing stencil prints.
I admired the way that first James Houston and then Terry Ryan worked with Inuit artists and printmakers to translate and adapt the “southern” Japanese woodcut technique into the reality of life in what was then the far distant North. For me, this led to a desire to meet the artists themselves. Joyce and I would travel to any gallery that invited Inuit artists down for an opening. Finally, we made the decision that we loved the art and the people so much that we wanted to travel to the Arctic to visit communities and meet the artists, to let them know in person how much we loved their art. We never intended in any way to circumvent the co-operative system that was working so well for the artists. We only went North to be close to the artists that we admired. Our first trip to Kinngait (Cape Dorset) was made in 1996, after we had already had the privilege of meeting Jimmy Manning, Pitseolak Niviaqsi and Kenojuak Ashevak here in Seattle. It was to be the first of many trips, not just to Kinngait but also to other settlements on Baffin Island and to Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake).
At the beginning we collected only works on paper as they fit best into our existing collections. Eventually, however, we gained an appreciation of the totality of the art form, and we began to collect sculptures as well. We loaned works for an exhibition at the Frye Art Museum here in Seattle and another collector, who was a friend, loaned sculptures to that exhibition. At that point we realized that we had to expand our collection to encompass all forms of Inuit contemporary art, including sculptures and wall hangings to embrace the full flowering of this extraordinary art form. Our first sculpture purchase was a Transformation in white marble made by the master sculptor Osuitok Ipeelee. Many more followed!
Along the way many wonderful memories were formed, including picking berries and fighting off ravens during a trip through Washington State with Kenojuak Ashevak, Jimmy Manning, and his wife Pitseolala. The most important part to both of us, always, was the friendships we forged, both in the North and in the South. For us today, we are gratified that everyone who comes to our house learns about this remarkable art form. We loan as many works as we can to public exhibitions to let others know about this exciting and amazing art.
We love having these treasures in our home but have decided it is time for us to move on. It is of utmost importance to both of us that we make our exquisite collection available to new collectors. Earlier we ourselves had the privilege of acquiring works from great private collectors, including pieces from the Klamer, Butler, Feheley, and Ryan personal collections. Therefore, we have decided to sell our works rather than donate them, so that a new generation of collectors can experience the same enjoyment and fulfilment that we have had. We would never have built this collection if not for “older” collectors letting their art flow into the hands of “younger” ones. We were able to create a comprehensive collection – from the beginning of contemporary Inuit art in the 1950s to the present day – because earlier collectors made their works available to us. We want to do the same thing.
Recently we donated five works by Annie Pootoogook to the Tate Modern in England. While this may seem contrary to our deaccessioning plan, we felt it was vitally important to ensure that the best of Inuit contemporary art become known outside of North America.
One of our best stories is about buying a sealskin purse at auction that was attributed to Kenojuak Ashevak (see Lot 46). The next time that we saw Kenojuak we showed her the purse, and her face positively glowed as she hugged it to herself saying, “Mine!” The people of the North, along with those in the South who share our love of the Arctic and these wonderful artists, have together made this collection such an important part of our lives. It is our hope that others will experience the same joy.
—John and Joyce Price Seattle, September 2022