The Artist
Pitseolak, Okpik

Okpik Pitseolak
“In my life, I have had many experiences. One of the most meaningful was when I finished a carving of myself [Oopik Going for Water] with beadwork like my grandmother used to make. When I finished that carving, I took it to the [West Baffin Eskimo] co-op. I think it had been sent down South already when Jimmy [Manning, assistant manager of the co-op] said to me, ‘You really put yourself into this – your full physical and mental self,’ as if to say, ‘I am proud of you.’ I will always remember that. It really touched me”
(Okpik Pitseolak in Leroux, Jackson, and Freeman 1995:195).

ROOTS Born in 1946, in Lake Harbour, Nunavut.

HOW AND WHEN SHE GOT STARTED Pitseolak learned beadwork from her grandmother when she was a child. She helped her father-in-law, Peter Pitseolak, with his carvings in the mid-1960s, and made her first carving in 1963. About her first carving, Pitseolak says: “It was a female head, just a head. As I was doing that carving, Mark Pitseolak started coming toward me. I was carving near a little pond. When Mark Pitseolak started coming, I threw the carving in the pond. I was very shy, and we were just getting together at that time. Now I am so sorry! That was my very first carving” (Leroux, Jackson, and Freeman 1995:194).

INFLUENCES Pitseolak's grandmother, Simatuq, was an important influence in her early years. She says: “She was a cleaning lady for the Hudson’s Bay Company. She did cooking and sewing, and she did beadwork. She wasn’t just a cleaning lady – she was a real woman. Because I learned beading from my grandmother, I am working at it today and I like doing it very much” (ibid., 192). Likewise, Pitseolak celebrates Inuit women – their strength and beauty – in much of her artwork. 

MEDIA Sculpture, printmaking, and jewellery, including beadwork

THEMES Herself, the past, community, stories, Inuit women, and family. “The only thing I have done in my sculpture is the way I used to live. I’m always talking about myself and my kids in my sculpture” (Pitseolak in Mitchell 1992). Pitseolak's sculpture also includes controversial themes, such as abuse and hardship (Inuit Art Quarterly 1998:10).

HOW SHE WORKS “Because everybody was making seals and fish and everyday things that they see and that they could easily carve, I wanted to do something different. If I think about something – like my carvings – then I think about it and want to make my thought a reality. I think, and my thoughts have to come out. I make my thoughts a reality in my carvings” (Pitseolak in Mitchell 1992).

FORMAL ART TRAINING Pitseolak attended Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit for metal, drawing, goldsmithing, and ceramics courses. She also participated in some workshops at the Ottawa School of Art, organized by the Inuit Art Foundation.

CAREER An artist, an intellectual, and a matriarch, Pitseolak came into her own in middle age, producing art and pursuing courses at Arctic College in English and arithmetic.

ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT In the early 1990s, Pitseolak began to integrate beads into her sculpture, showing the particular regional style of Cape Dorset (Eber 2004:15).

SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS As well as being included in Isumavut, a major exhibition organized by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1994, Pitseolak has served as the Inuit Art Foundation’s Vice President.

[For citations, Selected Exhibitions & References]

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