Published on November 4, 2010 by John
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Pitseolak was born to Timungiak and Oootochie Nottingham Island in the Northwest Territories. She grew up with the traditional life of hunting, gathering and shamans. She was part of one of the last generations of Inuit who grew up with the traditional lifestyles enjoyed by the North American Inuit since before 1000 BC.
Marrying Ashoona, a hunter, in 1922 in the Foxe Peninsula of Baffin Island, they raised 17 children, 5 of which survived past infancy. Four she raised herself after her husband Ashoona the hunter died from a viral sickness age 40, leaving her all alone with a handful of kids; Kumwartok, Qaqaq, Kiawak and daughter Napawchie Pootoogook. Her cousin, Kiakshuk and James Houston both inspired her to try her hand at drawing, then copper plates, a technique she did not enjoy. In the last two decades of her life, she assembled a collection of over 7000 images, 233 of which became prints in her Cape Dorset Collection. Illustrating life pre-contact, “the things we did long ago before there were many white men”(Inuit Art, Canadian Encyclopedia). Her artwork focuses on both daily life and legends, or Taleelayu. Pitseolak was inspired by other artists in her community that started before her, “I don’t know who did the first print, but Kiakshuk, Niviaksiak, Oshawetok and Tudlik were all drawing at the beginning. I liked the first prints… because they were truly Eskimo” (Eber, 37). Pitseolak was accepted into the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1974 and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1977 for her work. “Through the following decade and until her death in 1983, Pitseolak continued to draw, and to work with new media. An arts grant awarded to her in 1975 sparked experimentation in a new medium – acrylic paint on canvas. Initially, she approached painting like drawing, outlining in pencil and then filling in with colour. As she gradually adapted to the nuances of the medium, she began laying down bold colours side by side to achieve her vivid affect” (Pitseolak Ashoona:The Pictures, 2). Pitseolak found prints to be the most challenging as she states in Eber’s book Pitseolak: Pictures of My Life; “ To make prints is not easy. You must think first and this is hard to do. But I am happy doing the prints” (Eber, 45).
Her portrait was featured on a stamp in commemoration of International Woman’s Day, and in 1977, she was made a Member of the Order of Canada, the first level of the highest possible honour for a Canadian civilian.
On May 28, 1983, Pitseolak Ashoona died in Cape Dorset. She was survived by a large family of artists, including:
Napatchie Pootoogook, graphic artist — daughter.
Annie Pootoogook, (1969- ), artist; granddaughter
Qaqaq Ashoona (“Kaka”) (1928–1996), sculptor — elder son
Ohitok, sculptor — grandson
Kiawak Ashoona (born 1933) (“Kiugak”), sculptor — son
Kumwartok Ashoona, sculptor — son