We've been here 4 weeks and we've already purchased 6 pieces of Inuit art. They aren't big pieces, nor were they very expensive. They are not necessarily perfect. You will not find these at the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau and probably not at any other gift shop. Yet they at masterpieces and I love them all. They are crafted by local men and we will never be able to find other pieces like them.
Gino, father of 2 preteens, makes decorative ulus (women's kitchen knife with a semi-circular blade) and panas (men's hunting knife). The blades are made of baleen (see below) and the handles are carved Caribou antlers. I am the proud owner of one of each and they are showcased in my kitchen.
Henry, an older looking man, makes beautiful carvings out of anything he can get his hands on. Polar bears out of limestone, beluga whales out of soapstone, flowers out of baleen, and birds out of caribou antlers are some examples.
Joey's dad, whom I haven't met, also is a carver using much of the same materials as Henry. Some people here send their children (in this case Joey is a teenager/young adult) to go from door to door to sell their work. The other day two young kids came to our door to sell a pair of sealskin mittens. They were gorgeous and I bet soooo warm! I would have purchased them if the cuff at the wrist had been longer (they were too short and small - the wind would have crept in thus freezing my hands). Benjamin remarked that they smelled. Well I guess to put it plainly, they smelled like you would expect a dead seal to smell like. Ha!
We are the newcomers and so it's to be expected that all the local artists will try to sell us their work. Who else can they sell it too? Most people here can either carve for themselves, can't spare the money and/or already have all they want or need. This is all to say that we've had someone come to our door nearly everyday. You can't blame them for trying! While it's difficult to say "sorry not today", it's been a great way to get to know a few of the local people. Henry, the other day, was telling us where he finds his materials (limestone on a island not far away, soapstone up the shore somewhere, baleen from the bowhead whale the community caught 4 years ago etc). He was also telling us stories about the whale hunts and how the community is trying to organize another bowhead whale hunt for this summer. I hope we are here to witness this event. Apparently what an event it would be! Henry was describing all the parts of the whale they eat, how they prepare it and how they have huge community feasts.
If anyone is ever interested in Inuit art let me know. I'm sure the locals would love your business!
Baleen or whalebone is a filtering structure in the mouth of most whales, which they use to feed by sieving small animals from large mouthfuls of seawater. Instead of teeth, these whales have rows ofbaleen plates in the upper jaw–flat, flexible plates with frayed edges, arranged in two parallel rows, looking like combs with thick hair at the end of each comb tooth. Baleen is not in fact composed ofbone, but of the protein keratin, the same substance as hair, horn, scales, claws and nails. Baleen whales use these combs for filter feeding. From Wikipedia