Note: We can probably assume that the work was collected by James Houston on an early buying trip in the Arctic and given to his first wife, Alma.
Exhibited and Published
Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, Sculpture/Inuit(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971), fig. 211.
This international touring exhibition remains the most important show of Inuit sculpture ever mounted. Comprising 405 works, it travelled to Moscow, Leningrad, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Philadelphia, Ottawa, and Vancouver.
George Swinton, Eskimo Sculpture (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1965), p. 94;
George Swinton, Sculpture of the Inuit (Toronto, M&S, 1972/92), fig. 185.
This highly important carving combines charming naïveté with exceptionally fine workmanship and sophistication. We wonder if the carver of this rare early masterpiece might be Akeeaktashuk, who was identified by James Houston as the preeminent talent in Inukjuak already in 1949. Interestingly, a relatively large sculpture attributed to Akeeaktashuk depicting a seated mother nursing her child from c. 1953, in the Winnipeg Art Gallery collection, displays a quite similar incised pattern of hanging beads on the front of the woman’s amautiq (see reference). Darlene Wight mentions that similar beadwork decorations can be seen on other works by Akeeaktashuk as well. Apparently, this type of adornment was found on women’s clothing from across Nunavik and southern Baffin Island (see Lot 47 and references).
References: For the larger sculpture with similar incised beadwork attributed to Akeeaktashuk c. 1953, see Darlene Coward Wight, Early Masters (WAG, 2006), p. 28. For a somewhat similar small Inukjuak gem from the period, see Woman from c. 1950 and attributed to Pilipusi Novalinga (Akeeaktashuk’s brother), illustrated in George Swinton (1972/92), fig. 314 and Early Masters, p. 42. For a circa 1956 Salluit ivory carving with similarly incised decorative detailing dating, see Swinton (1972/92), fig. 410, but identified as from Inukjuak in Gerald McMaster ed., Inuit Modern (Toronto: AGO, 2010), p. 66. For photos of historical and more modern parkas with similar beadwork see Betty Kobayashi Issenman, Sinews of Survival: The Living Legacy of Inuit Clothing (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997), pp. 72, 153, 157.