North loses prominent artist
Death will drastically affect the Inuit art industry

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 011/96) - The North has lost one of its premiere carvers.

Kaka Ashoona died suddenly Nov. 2, at his outpost camp near Cape Dorset. He was 66.

Ashoona was part of a ground-breaking group of carvers in Cape Dorset responsible for bringing national attention to Inuit art in the early 1950s.

He is survived by his wife and eight children.

"His loss is drastically going to affect the Inuit art industry," said Bob Kussy, a Yellowknife-based artist married to Ashoona's niece, Goota Ashoona

Regarded as a carver of international repute, Ashoona's pieces are displayed across Canada and abroad. They are found in most major art galleries in Canada, including the National Gallery in Ottawa.

His life on the land is reflected in his artwork, which captures the elements of traditional Inuit life and culture.

He came from a family of carvers that began producing in the early 1950s. Born to the Inuit oral tradition, his work is considered unique by many.

He worked most often at an outpost camp, choosing to live outside mainstream society, using hand tools to do all of his pieces, most of which are made from soapstone he had shipped to Cape Dorset.

Ashoona was a teenager when art expert James Houston, who introduced Inuit carvings to the art world, came to Cape Dorset in the 1950s.

Jimmy Manning, assistant manager of the co-op in Cape Dorset, started buying Ashoona's carvings more than 15 years ago.

"Because his work is so recognized across Canada, the US and Europe, his work will be greatly missed," he said.

But Manning said the people of Cape Dorset will miss Ashoona the most. They knew him and loved him.

"He was like a father to most of us in the community," he said. "We weren't ready for him to leave."

Manning said members of the community may hold a memorial to commemorate the accomplishments of Ashoona.

"All that's left is his artwork, and this will speak volumes for decades," says Peter Lau, a family friend and museum curator.