The Artists of Gjoa Haven, NU

The town of Gjoa Haven (Uqsuqtuuq), Nunavut is known for its incredibly talented sculptors, seamstresses and artists. While we were in Gjoa Haven, our photographer, Natta Summerky, spent time with some of the hamlet’s artisans to get to know them a bit better. Here are the people she met.

Leoni Aaluk, 66, seamstress

“I learned to sew when I was 12 years old just by watching my older sister or my mom doing that. I made my first parka for my niece who was six at the time. Now it’s very difficult to find the materials for my work. Sometimes I pick up scraps to make mitts or parkas, otherwise it’s very expensive.

“I lost my husband last year and it’s been hard – but I tell myself: you have to move on and life goes on. So, now I’ve been making tents and other works for the Heritage Centre. It takes between three and four days to make a tent. “

 

“I have seven daughters and two sons. My children are into art as well. I never knew how. They taught themselves. This parka I made myself. The fur is wolverine fur and my grandchildren decorated it for me. My children ask me to move to Cambridge Bay, but it’s so hard to leave, my whole life is here.”

 

Joseph Sugslak, 58, carver and carpenter

“In the 70s, the co-op offered a carving workshop, I took a few courses and never stopped since. It’s been my full-time job for 30 years now. I work here every day and it really gets cold in winter so I work inside. I have six children and one of them is really into carving as well.”

 

“I use limestone and sandstone, even granite but it’s really complicated as it wears tools a lot. Soapstone dust makes me cry and sticks all over me. It dries my eyes a lot.

“I get inspired by what’s around me. I used to be a hunter like everyone around me so I know men. I know animals.”

 

Leah Oniktok, doll maker

“I’m not originally from Gjoa Haven, but I sometimes come here to sell my works. It’s really expensive to live here, and very difficult to get the wool to make my dolls. There are no resources.”

 

Salomie Qitsualik, 71, seamstress

“I moved here in the 70s. I mostly make parkas, boots and mitts for my family.”

 

“My husband was Gideon Qitsualik, who was pictured on the two dollar bill from 1974. He died in 2008, and the Memorial Hall in Gjoa Haven is named after him.”

 

Eva Kogvik, 56, seamstress

“We moved here in 1971. I learned how to make the wall hangings from my mom and from my auntie. I also make custom parkas, crochet and wall decor.

“I have seven children: one is adopted and one is deceased. Sammy Kogvik is the one that saw HMS Terror mast sticking out of the water around 2010 which was later confirmed in 2016.”

 

Danny Aaluk, 47, artist

“I taught drawing myself back when I was a kid. I kept drawing an owl and then I went on to polar bears. The very first time we had the coast guard like yours come in – I couldn’t believe how big it was. I went to school and started sketching it without even looking back at it. I would just picture it in my mind and count all the windows. The next day I would come look at it and continue sketching. The teacher was fascinated and that’s when I started doing my art. I’ve now been a full-time artist for the past 23 years. But really I’m just a kid with lots of gray hair.”

 

“I cannot get the paper I need for my art anymore. They cut the funding and the grants. I go through about 200 sheets of paper a year. I draw almost every day. Sometimes, I don’t even have the time to go out. Almost everything I make goes to support my family. Since my father died last year, my mom relies on me to support them. I made some good sales the other day and I took my nieces out shopping. They were so happy.”