Kenojuak Ashevak (1927 - 2013)

Kenojuak Ashevak was born in an igloo in an Inuit camp, Ikirasaq, at the southern coast of Baffin Island. Her father, Ushuakjuk, an Inuit hunter and fur trader, and her mother, Silaqqi, named Kenojuak after Silaqqi's deceased father. According to this Inuit naming tradition, the love and respect that had been accorded to her during her lifetime would now pass on to their daughter.

When she was 19, her mother, Silaqqi, and stepfather, Takpaugni, arranged for her to marry Johnniebo Ashevak (1923–1972), a local Inuit hunter, while living at Keakto. They were later encouraged by James Houston, the Canadian federal government’s administrator for the region, to experiment in producing sculpture and drawings to supplement their livelihood. In 1962, Terry Ryan took over the arts-advisor role and continued to advise and support Kenojuak and Johnniebo, introducing them to new techniques and mediums, like the copper-etching process.

By 1963 her art had made her sufficiently notable to be the subject of a National Film Board documentary by producer John Feeney, Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak, about Kenojuak, then 35, and her family, as well as traditional Inuit life on Baffin Island. The film showed a stonecutter carving her design into a relief block in stone, cutting away all the non-printing surfaces; she would then apply ink to the carved stone, usually in two or more colours, and carefully make 50 "shadow" prints for sale. National Gallery of Canada art expert Christine Lalonde marvelled at her confident artistry: “When you see her, you realize she doesn't use an eraser. She just sits down and she starts to draw.” With the money she earned from the film, Johnniebo was able to purchase his own canoe and become an independent hunter to help provide for the family, which now included a new daughter, Aggeo, and an adopted son, Ashevak. In 1966 they moved off the land into the Cape Dorset community to provide schooling opportunities for their children and continued to work closely together as artists 1972.

Kenojuak is possibly the most renowned Inuit artist ever - and today is regarded as a great Canadian national treasure. From her humble beginnings she emerged to become regarded as one of the most notable pioneers of modern Inuit art. She received every conceivable award and honour that any Canadian could acquire in the arts. Her imagery has been displayed on Canadian stamps and coins, her life portrayed in books and films, and her art sought all over the world by collectors, corporations and museums. Over the years, she received commissions to produce images for institutions, charities, cultural events and celebrations, as well as becoming the first Inuit to design a stained-glass window for a chapel in Ontario. Her 1960 print Enchanted Owl has become an iconic image in Canadian art and her 1959 print Rabbit Eating Seaweed is one of the rarest images in Inuit art.

Since the very first showing of Inuit graphics in 1959, she contributed to every Cape Dorset annual print release since. She was a stalwart of the West Baffin Co-operative print shop and also a carver who created many wonderful sculptures.