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Flying south before winter

Daron Letts
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 29/05) - Goota Ashoona and Bob Kussy are leaving Yellowknife for Ottawa "before the first snowflake falls."

They are making the move because one of their sons has medical needs that can't be met in the North.

NNSL Photo

Goota Ashoona: Four generation Inuit artist is moving south with her family.

They chose Ottawa for its strong Inuit community.

Ashoona is a fourth generation Inuit artist. She grew up in Cape Dorset surrounded by accomplished carvers, printmakers, throat singers and crafters in one of the most prominent Inuit art families in the North.

She is well known throughout Canada for her sensitive depictions of Inuit mothers and children and for her wall hangings and Inuit dolls. Her work has been admired by Adrienne Clarkson and Supreme Court Justice Louise Arbour.

Her father Kiawak Ashoona is a renowned carver and Order of Canada recipient whose work is celebrated across the continent.

Kiawak still carves in Cape Dorset.

Ashoona learned her craft by watching him as a child. She and her mother, a printmaker, often sanded her father's pieces.

Sometimes she plucked flakes of soapstone from the floor to carve while her father was out hunting. He was always proud of whatever she created, she said.

"I think of my father while I carve and about how hard he worked to support us," she said.

Ashoona keeps her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona's artistic spirit alive, as well. Pitseolak was a printmaker, for which she was also recognized with the Order of Canada. Many of Ashoona's figurative carvings bring her grandmother's drawings to life.

Some of her works portray moments of loss in her life and in the lives of people close to her.

"I put my feelings into the carvings and let them go," she said.

This week Ashoona is carving the faces of a man and woman on either side of a broken whale vertebra while shaping a woman and child from a chunk of Cape Dorset soapstone.

Ashoona almost missed her artistic calling. She quit carving at age 15 and didn't pick up her tools again until eight years ago.

"Goota has a confidence and compassion that draws people," said Kussy. "She knows how to shoot and gut a caribou and she can hold her own with the best Inuit women carvers in Canada. I've had a remarkable personal education through Goota."

Northern Lego

Kussy grew up in a Ukrainian family in Winnipeg, but has lived in Yellowknife for 15 years. He's been carving for about a decade. His creations stretch across the emotional spectrum, depicting peaks of joy and depths of anguish. He pieces together caribou antlers, tufts of polar bear fur and whale bones with ivory inlay to explore human feelings.

"It's like working with Northern Lego," he said. In 2003, the Canada Arts Council selected one of his pieces for the Canada Arts Bank.

His work has been presented to diplomats, dignitaries and heads of state. He is sought after by galleries and private collectors as a talented restorer of Inuit art.

He's also a respected Yellowknife soccer coach.

Together, Ashoona and Kussy blend traditional art with contemporary media. They have reproduced some of Pitseolak's traditional designs in etched glass and sheets of metal and plan to work with plastic.

"We want to broaden our palette," Kussy said.

Ashoona and Kussy sell their art through the Gallery of the Midnight Sun and Northern Images and out of their Old Town studio.

Their planned fall departure gives the arts community one more reason to wish for a long summer.