When Creative Matters got the call from the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) about interpreting original artworks by Inuit artists for the new Iqaluit airport in Nunavut, Canada, we were honoured. Our team knew this was going to be an important project, and it was.
The gallery, which holds in trust more than 13,000 pieces of contemporary and traditional Inuit artworks, asked us to take 6 small works and faithfully realize them as large handmade rugs (for hanging) – to imbue the new airport with the spirit and voice of Canada’s most northerly indigenous people.
INTERPRETING THE WORK
Although Creative Matters usually designs and produces original floor and wallcoverings, our team also has considerable experience translating artworks into large scale textiles - as we did with the Canada House project in London, England.
“One of the many things we enjoyed about the Iqaluit project was translating textile-to-textile: small felt-based artworks to large handmade wall hangings – a bit less of a stretch than translating paintings into rugs as we did with Canada House, but equally as gratifying,” said Ali McMurter, Creative Matters Vice President.
At the start of the project in early 2017, Ali met with the WAG team in Winnipeg to view the original artworks and colours. They also discussed techniques for emulating the small textiles in a large-scale format. Eduardo Aquino from SPMB helped envision how the finished creations would be displayed at the airport and spearheaded the mission to use carpet-making techniques to scale up the felt artworks.
The Creative Matters design team then worked on translating photographic reproductions of the original artworks into full-scale production maps while our Logistics Manager Julie Baldwin made sure they all arrived safely and on time.
First image - original artwork by Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq. Canadian (Baker Lake), b. 1941. Untitled (Spirits), c. 1970–c. 1979. Wool felt on wool duffle. Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection. On long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, 988.1221
Second image - Creative Matters recreation of Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq artwork, handtufted from Thailand in 100% wool.
Third image - Wall hanging rug in-situ in the Iqaluit Airport, Nunavut. Photography by Jason Miller - Baffin Photography
MATERIALS AND SIZING
The original artworks are generally smaller than 900mm x1200mm (3’ x 4’) while the finished rug wall hangings are approximately 3 times that, with the largest being 2590mm x 6800mm (8’4” x 22’3”). All were crafted in 100% wool by skilled artisans in Thailand (handtufted) and India (handwoven). The handtufted goods required 14 weeks and the handwoven piece took 24 weeks to produce. The handtufted cut pile very closely mimics the look of wool felt while loop pile tufting suggests embroidery and appliqué, so we were thrilled with how faithfully our team was able to replicate the original artworks.
First image - original artwork by Martha Kakee. Canadian (Pangnirtung), b. 1908. Fishing in the Weir, 1983. Wool felt on wool duffle. Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection. On long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2.84.1
Second image - Creative Matters recreation of Martha Kakee artwork, flatwoven from India in 100% wool. Photography by Jason Miller - Baffin Photography
“There was one artwork (Ice Fishing) that was originally flat woven using hand dyed yarns, so we used the same technique but on a larger loom with thicker yarn to match it as closely as possible,” said Ali. “This piece took longer than the others to make but was well worth the wait.”
FROM PERSONAL TO PUBLIC
“Almost all of our designers were involved in this wonderful project, which was a real thrill,” said Creative Matters President Carol Sebert. “It was an honour to help bring Inuit art that is traditionally made on a smaller, more personal scale into a large public space. The scale of the final pieces makes them highly visible, and the materials used ensure they stay true to the original textures and colours.”
We also asked a couple of Creative Matters designers to comment about the pieces they worked on:
"The vibrant green background of Vivian Ipigunaalk Joedee’s original piece (wool felt on wool duffle) makes the characters the focal point; the bright colours and gradations surprise, while the embroidery creates different and interesting textures.”
Kat Pezzano, Creative Matters Designer
Original artwork by Vivian Ipigunaaluk Joedee. Canadian (Baker Lake), b. 1951. Untitled, 1979. Wool felt on wool duffle. Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection. On long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, 989.30.9)
“The bold use of colour and choice of symmetry in Jessie Oonark’s design is strong and powerful. The composition of the overall artwork focuses on the central character, who is said to represent a Sun God.”
Kayla Bortolotto, Creative Matters Designer
(Original artwork by Jessie Oonark. Canadian (Baker Lake), 1906–1985. Untitled, c.1972–1973. Wool felt on wool duffle. Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection. On long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2.76.2)
“I find the shape of Veronica Kadjuak Manilak’s piece supports the movement of the figures, and the rich red background provides a wonderful contrast to the simplicity of the colour of the motifs."
Kat Pezzano, Creative Matters Designer
(Original artwork by Veronica Kadjuak Manilak. Canadian (Rankin Inlet), b. 1935. Untitled, c. 1974. Wool felt on wool duffle. Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection. On long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2.75.10)
In the words of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, which has begun work on a new $65-million Inuit Art Centre, “art is a voice.” We couldn’t agree more. Perhaps it’s time to make a trip to Iqaluit – the capital of the Canadian territory of Nunavut – to see the origins of such splendid Inuit art for yourself (and our wall hangings at the airport of course).