Spotlight on Romeo Eekerkik

Text by Emily Lawrence
March 11, 2023

Sculptor Romeo Eekerkik (1923–1983) was based in Arviat, Nunavut for much of his life. Known as an artistic community, it was home to some of Inuit Art’s most acclaimed artists including Andy Miki (1918–1983), John Pangnark (1920–1980), Eva Talooki Aliktiluk (1927–1994), Lucy Tasseor Tutsweetok (1934–2012), and more. The Arviat artists became known for their highly minimalist carvings which developed into a distinctive, overarching community style. Subjects were often near abstract, but indicated by simple marks upon the very hard stone imported from quarries over 100 kilometres away, and sometimes from Rankin Inlet [1]. Arviat sculpture was declared “of the highest order” by Inuit art expert Norman Zepp [2], and work coming out of the community has been likened to the formal simplicity of European modernist sculpture. Pangnark, for example, was deemed the “Brancusi of the North” by art historian George Swinton [3]. 


Despite developing his artistic style at the same time as minimalists Pangnark and Miki, Eekerkik took his work in a radically different direction. He worked almost exclusively with antler in a way that was unequivocally maximalist. His signature subject was in fact a scene: often it involved a family or hunters standing on an antler base, and was almost always rooted in narrative. Eekerkik’s proclivity toward originality, experimentation, and even trendsetting amongst his peers was clear: 

Since I’ve started carving, I’ve learned that an individual has to carve his own ideas. He has to carve the images that come to his mind. Around 1975 I heard a rumour that another carver was told not to copy my work. I don’t think that others should have to imitate my carvings or my technique [5] .


Eekerkik was notably innovative, seeking new techniques to liven up the appearance of antler. In the early 1970s he began to experiment with a propane torch which was used to scorch and darken areas on the antler to denote specific details. [6] This technique is most evident in the works Man and Woman Walking (1975) and Making a Living (1976), in which the hair and parka trim of the figures take on a golden-graphite colour. In the latter work, the male figure on the right-hand side of the scene appears to sport subtle eyebrows, a moustache, and chin stubble. These details represent Eekerkik’s determination to imbue his scenes with naturalism. The artist would also use graphite and/or paint to bring forth such details, creating a striking contrast between figure and detail. 


Eekerkik’s use of stone to illustrate minor components of a scene was also a deviation from his Arviat colleagues and even considered unusual amongst early Inuit sculpture across the Canadian Arctic. In Man with Caught Lemming (c. 1975), a singular figure looks happily at the viewer while presenting his catch: a small lemming carved from stone, hanging from his mitts by strings of sinew. In Two Men Flensing a Walrus (c. 1975) Eekerkik depicts two hunters preparing to flense (slice the skin or fat) their walrus catch. Flipped on its back the lifelessness of the walrus is enhanced through its material of cold, dark stone while the eager hunters, carved from antler, look on. The artist’s mixing of materials is effective, denoting animal from human and presenting contrasting materials and colours that enhance the naturalism of the scene can also be seen in Seal Hunters.


In addition to depicting the traditional facets of Inuit life, some rare examples of Eekerkik’s work demonstrate the artist’s reflectiveness on a changing way of life. Following a similar trajectory to other Canadian Arctic communities, a government-implemented art program was introduced to Arviat in 1966 and many Inuit who chose art, dealt with the newfound experience of creating carvings to earn a living. This came after Inuit were encouraged to move into settlement communities from migratory hunting camps, an extreme transition from a traditional way of life toward a “Southern” style economic system. The artist reflects on the experience: 

I first began to carve when I was living in Whale Cove. We didn’t have a store in the settlement, so we had to travel to Rankin Inlet for provisions. At the time (1963), government officials and others were beginning to move there. This was when I started to carve: when I noticed others were carving and selling their work [7]. 


The Carver, Four Inuit Bringing their Works to the Co-Op (1975) and Making a Living (1976) are both remarkable works that reflect on this experience. Created in the mid-1970s, over ten years into working as a carver, the artist depicts Inuit presenting their newly carved sculptures to the viewer (in reality this would be the co-op’s sculpture buyer). The artists proudly present their carvings of bears, walrus, a hunting scene, and caribou perhaps eager to learn how much money they will bring. These incredible works reflect not only on Eekerkik’s role as artist, but also his peers who, like him, hoped to make a decent living through their artistic practice. This self-reflexiveness was not commonly seen in work at the time with the exception of some drawings from Kinngait, which the artist was likely was not exposed to. Eekerkik was certainly unique in his community at depicting such subjects and further demonstrates his tendency toward innovation and originality, in both technique and subject. 



[1] Susan Gustavison, Northern Rock: Contemporary Inuit Stone Sculpture (Kleinburg, ON: McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 1999), 87.  

[2] Norman Zepp, “What Makes the Sculpture of Arviat Different?,” Inuit Art Quarterly (2017): 

[3] George Swinton et al., Eskimo Point/Arviat, (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1982), 14.

[4] Ibid, 21 

[5] Ibid, 32. 

[6] Ibid, 23. 

[7] Ibid, 21.

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