Island of carvers
Art in stone thrives in Sanikiluaq

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services

Sanikiluaq (Feb 14/00) - For a community with a total population of about 700, Sanikiluaq is teeming with carving activity.

In fact, IKEA Canada -- a popular, furniture and housewares chain with nationwide locations -- placed an order for 1,800 carvings to give to their employees last Christmas.

"We have introduced a Christmas gift program for our co-workers in IKEA Canada and it's connected usually to beautifying your home, says Ulf Caap, the company's vice-president of human relations.

"But people get quite bored with what's in IKEA range. So we are trying to do something unique, something different, something that's connected to the Canadian heritage, Canadian history."

The president of IKEA suggested the Inuit carvings as gifts because he had become mesmerised with them. But prices are so prohibitive in the metropolitan land of galleries that Caap became convinced it was impossible. But his boss persisted, and Caap eventually managed to set it up.

"We have had the program in place for 10, 15 years now. And this gift we gave last December was the most memorable gift a co-worker has ever received. It was soulful, it was beautiful, it was individual. It was enormously appreciated," says Caap.

It was also appreciated by the Sanikiluaq carvers.

"It kept probably 30 or 40 carvers busy ... I'd say they worked three months putting that order together," says Bob McLean, who manages a new Sanikiluaq-based Web site for carvers selling their works called Soapstone Artists of Sanikiluaq (

"I was offered the order, but because we were just opening for business, the Co-op handled all the purchasing," says McLean, a one-time Co-op manager.

"They just bought all the carvings here and shipped them all down to Toronto to Canadian Arctic Producers. They boxed them all up for IKEA, individually, with a biography of the carver and a little picture of them and everything," he says, adding that the IKEA order was the single largest for carvings the community ever received.

Last December, the Sanikiluaq Web site received an average of 160 hits per day, says McLean. In its three months of operation, Soapstone Artists of Sanikiluaq have sold $20,000 worth of local work. McLean has a 25 per cent mark-up for his costs and time, and the rest goes directly to the carvers.

"They get 50 per cent more than they would get if they sold to a store," adds McLean.

McLean has been in Sanikiluaq since 1983, and now has a wife and five children. He originally planned to stay at the Co-op for a two-year term only. Besides managing the Web site, he works as observer/communicator at the airport.

"We'd have pilots coming in from Iqaluit or from Churchill. They'd say, 'Hey, we've heard the carvings here are really nice. Can you get us a couple,'" recalls McLean

From there, it was only a matter of time before this isolated community would benefit from e-commerce. Today, it isn't only visitors who hear about Sanikiluaq carvings, anyone with access to the Internet will too.