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Carvers Noah Kudlak, left, and his wife Renee Evetalegak proudly display his latest work - Bow and Arrow Man - which they were trying to sell door-to-door in Cambridge Bay. - John Curran/NNSL photo

Artists carve out a niche

John Curran
Northern News Services

Cambridge Bay (Mar 14/05) - Noah Kudlak and his common-law wife Renee Evetalegak walk into Kitikmeot Foods looking for general manager Calvin Schindel.

Kudlak, an award winning carver who has been at it for 15-20 years now, has just completed his latest piece. It's a hunter carved from black Quebec serpentine, complete with a harpoon and an arrow made of bone and caribou hide.

Chris King, Cambridge Bay economic development officer, says there are about 50 artists and crafters in his community, including Phillip Toasi who drew the pictures behind him. - John Curran/NNSL photo

"It took me about two days work," he said, offering the piece to the woman answering his knock on the office door.

He hoped to get $250 for his Bow and Arrow Man, but leaves in search of another potential customer when informed Schindel is out of town on business.

In a territory known globally for its fine arts, Cambridge Bay economic development officer Chris King said the arts community here is probably the least elaborate in Nunavut.

"There are about 50 people doing arts and crafts right now," he said.

Those who are involved in the business are hindered by the lack of materials. There are no ivory-producing animals living in the area and, although it's being studied, there is no process in place to get soapstone to the hamlet from places like Cape Dorset.

Inferior stone is flown in from Brazil instead.

Many communities in Nunavut also have private or co-operative ventures buying art to help residents get their works to more lucrative markets in the south. That hasn't happened in Cambridge Bay.

"Most of the sales are done door-to-door," King said.

While the Co-op and Northern store do buy and sell some pieces, he said purchasing larger works means arranging a private viewing with someone like Kudlak at his home.

While Cambridge Bay may lag behind in the sophistication of its art sales network, the craftsmanship found on the southern shore of Victoria Island is impressive.

From coins to jewelry

Cambridge Bay crafters are fast becoming known for their fine wallhangings and parkas. As well, the community's jewelry makers have burst onto the scene since Nunavut Arctic College offered training in the field a few terms back.

"Some of them make rings out of nickels, quarters and loonies," said King.

He said it's difficult and time consuming to work with pocket change, but the results are beautiful.

This unusual source of raw materials is akin to the way Inuit, for centuries, would salvage items discarded around European whaling stations to make important tools like ulus, he said.

The skills and ingenuity of crafters in these fields are fuelling, in part, a new retail business in the hamlet.

Not only does the Arctic Closet carry low price-point, southern imports catering to the younger crowd, but the 100 per cent Inuit-owned venture also sells handmade clothing, ivory earrings and brooches as well as anything else that catches Vicki Aitaok's eye.

"It's unique, one-of-a-kind stuff," she said.

She's not just hoping to sell work from Cambridge Bay artisans. The Arctic Closet also carries supplies like the colourful trim often used on parkas and she hopes to include other things like beads and material in the near future.

"We really want to help support that local community of crafters," she said.