Being a traditional hunter-gather society, ingenuity and creativity have been essential to the Intuit’s survival in the extreme arctic conditions. They’ve thrived by teaching themselves to make clothes, tools, homes and transportation that are able to withstand the harsh environment. With the kayak, the ulu knife and the igloo all a vital part of daily life, art means more than just handicrafts in this unique culture, it is a way of life.
Traditional Inuit utensils, clothing, tools and weapons were all skillfully crafted by hand from natural materials they could find such as stone, bone, ivory, antler and animal hides, taking only with them what they could carry or wear.
History was very important to the Intuits so dolls, masks and figurines made out of walrus ivory, antlers bone, and soapstone conveyed legends of their ancestors’ past with mythical sculptures being common designs. In the 1500s, they began trading these creations with the Americans and the European whalers for food, ammunition and other essentials, but cribbage boards and scrimshaw games made of walrus and narwhal tusks were favorites among the visitors.
The community of Cape Dorset is world-famous for their printmaking abilities and common themes depict aboriginal life in the polar arctic from fishing and family to local creatures. The Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post in 1913 with a co-op of local artists. It is the oldest arts organization in the Canadian Arctic, with the Kinngait Studios being the oldest professional printmaking studio in Canada, worthy of a visit for both an arts and history lesson.
If you want to bring home an authentic souvenir, the amauti is a special parka mothers designed to carry their infants in with a built-in baby pouch below the hood for warmth and protection. For trendier pieces, sealskin boots and polar bear skin leggings are both popular and practical.