OSUITOK IPEELEE, R.C.A. (1922 or 1923-2005) m., KINNGAIT (CAPE DORSET)
Resting Caribou Calf, c. 1960-62
stone, 4.5 x 5.5 x 2.25 in (11.4 x 14 x 5.7 cm)
Estimate: $5,000 — $8,000
Purchased in Cape Dorset by an RCMP officer who travelled north frequently and lived for a time in Cape Dorset before retiring in 1962;
by descent to the current owner residing in the Vancouver area.
Osuitok, who started carving ivory as a young teenager, began incising pictures on ivory by the 1940s. He first drew and perfected the images in pencil before incising them; Osuitok also tried his hand at watercolour painting . These early acquired skills might partly explain his interest in, and talent for, naturalistic representation in sculpture. Perhaps Osuitok's earliest documented depiction of a resting caribou is a sensitively rendered image on an engraved muskox horn from 1953 . Although Osuitok eventually became famous for his sculptures of caribou and carved them fairly prolifically, we cannot recall an example dating before 1970. This achingly beautiful small sculpture is therefore an exceedingly rare prototype if not unique in the artist's oeuvre of this period.
The animal's short neck and lack of antlers strongly suggests that the subject is a caribou calf. Osuitok probably lacked a full array of specialized tools at this early date, and so would not yet have been able to carve a standing caribou, but this artist's sensitivity and finesse are nonetheless readily apparent. This graceful caribou calf possesses all the hallmarks of the master's finest later examples of the subject.
1. Jean Blodgett, "Osuitok Ipeelee" in Alma Houston, ed., Inuit Art: An Anthology (Winnipeg: Watson and Dwyer, 1988) p. 43.
2. Darlene Coward Wight, Early Masters (Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2006), cover and p. 148.
References: For a lovely and similarly posed kneeling adult caribou, from 1970, in the Canadian Museum of History collection see Macduff and Galpin, Lords of the Stone (Whitecap, 1982), p. 30; also illus. in CEAC, Sculpture/Inuit (Univ. of Toronto Press, 1971), fig. 143, and George Swinton, Sculpture of the Inuit (M&S, 1972/92), fig. 431. For a 1983 photo of Osuitok with a larger reclining caribou see Jean Blodgett, "Osuitok Ipeelee" in Alma Houston, ed., Inuit Art: An Anthology (1988) p. 43. For an example from the late 1980s see Walker's Auctions, November 2016, Lot 90.