Eskimos Rolling Imperial Drums at Shiptime / Work at Ship-time*, 1959 (special commission)
stonecut and stencil, 12.625 x 19.875 in (32 x 50.5 cm).
#2 of probably three proofs
*Title given in Imperial Oil Bulletin
ESTIMATE: $2,500— $3,500
PRICE REALIZED: $31,200
Ex. Collection of Mr. Gerard Moses;
bequest to Ms. Barbara Mercer, Toronto;
Estate of the above.
Imperial Oil Review, October 1960 (Vol. 44, No. 5), reproduced pp. 18-19.
With great economy of means Kiakshuk creates a fascinating and unusual scene of men rolling oil drums into the community for storage - drums just unloaded from a supply ship that visited just once a year. Kiakshuk's pictorial style is oddly reminiscent of the scenes of everyday life inscribed onto walrus tusks in the Historic Period. Kiakshuk is justly famous for his lively compositions of traditional hunting and camp life, but it is a treat to see one of his compositions depicting the modern realities of mid-20th century village life.
Photojournalist Rosemary Gilliat, in her journal entry from September 1960, in its admittedly dated language and attitude, describes what may have been the inspiration for the scene:
"A few days ago I was watching them roll oil drums, these are big 45 gallon drums, & they had to be rolled from the beach up to a stone yard behind Jim's [James Houston] house. Mostly there were 2 men to a drum, but sometimes only one. Jim has asked them to use three. As the job would be done more quickly, and there would be less physical risk involved. The Eskimo [sic] men do not realize the danger of a rupture & so they gaily do the heaviest job without thinking, white men know they may get incapacitated & so they take care - & do not exert themselves to the full. The Captain of the Waldingham [a British freighter] said that he had never known men handle freight, when unloading ship, as well as Jim's [sic] Eskimos" .
1. Library and Archives Canada, Rosemary Gilliat Eaton Fonds, R12438-0-0-E, box 3 file 5, 'Arctic Trip Diary.' no date, after 26 September 1960; There are several photographs in LAC's Gilliat Eaton Fonds, that are, presumably, of the event, see nos. e010835899 ; e010975455; e010835899; e010835900.
Reference: For a graphite drawing by Kiakshuk c. 1960, also teeming with very similar "stick figures" at work, see Spirit Wrestler Gallery, Graphite and Stone (Vancouver: 1997) cat. 37.