Estate of Peter Murdoch, Montreal. One of the most important Qallunaat figures in the development of Inuit art, Peter Murdoch (1929-2015) became a Hudson’s Bay post manager in the Arctic in 1947 at the tender age of eighteen; managed the Rehab Centre in Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit) in the early 1960s where he instituted a successful carving program; and devoted the rest of his life to building and nurturing FCNQ, the federation of co-ops in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec). He was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2015.
Peter Murdoch, who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1940s and 1950s, met Henry Evaluardjuk when the artist was still living in Pond Inlet. In 1959 Evaluardjuk was sent to a TB sanatorium in Hamilton; upon his release he and his family moved to Frobisher Bay where he was promptly hired by Murdoch to supervise the local Rehab arts program. Evaluardjuk’s own career flourished even as he taught many local Inuit to carve and gain self-sufficiency.
Large scale works by Henry can be seen in any number of public institutions and corporate collections. These larger sculptures, gorgeous in their own right, serve as a contrasting testament that even when working with a reduced sized stone, the artist created his works with equal virility and skill so as to capture the essentials of his subject while maintaining the economy of space.
Henry’s is a personal style that excelled in the distinguished ability to meticulously capture the proportions of arctic animals, with the most celebrated amongst these types of works being his depictions of polar bears. This appeal to accuracy is present in his work from the early 1960s, Bird with Raised Head. Here, Henry depicts the small bird with a graceful naturalism. Crisp, mottled touches have been made to the wing and tail tips. The beak, eyes, and nostrils are formed by decisive incised marks of the artist’s tools. Unlike the majority of his polar bears, however, Bird with Raised Head depends in part on unpolished surfaces for its realism. The belly of the animal has been left untouched, while its back contains a high degree polish. The resultant effect indicates that we are likely witnessing a small rock ptarmigan in its summer plumage.