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Elder artist helps young printmakers

Laura Power
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 13, 2007

BAKER LAKE - "They're gathering and talking about what's happening on the land," said artist Simon Tookoome through translator Gerri Sharpe-Staples, explaining the drawing he was working on. The picture was of an animal with human faces on its body.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Simon Tookoome of Baker Lake works on some drawings at the Great Northern Arts Festival in Inuvik this year. - Laura Power/NNSL photo

"Except they're running into an issue," he added. "They're afraid of something happening. They're discussing what to do next."

The 73-year old artist brings traditional stories to life with his coloured pencils. Not everyone immediately gets the meaning, he said, but the people who do are those who really understand.

Tookoome is still working every day at his art after decades of creating sculptures, drawings and prints.

In his career so far, he has travelled near and far for exhibits. But he has also made a difference in his home community as one of the founding members of the Baker Lake print shop.

The print shop opened nine years ago, and today has about 10 members. Three of the youngest members are five, 12 and 16 years old, and these members rely on Tookoome for help and advice with their developing talents.

"The ones that don't ask the questions and don't ask for help are the ones that are lacking, and the ones that ask questions and look for help are the ones that are learning," said Tookoome through translation.

He is the only member of his family who makes his living as an artist, he said.

Though he said for some, making a living that way can be hard work, it hasn't been difficult for him.

His only difficulty, he said, is his eyesight which has been bothering him.

While Tookoome gives guidance to the young printmakers in Baker Lake, he is not finished learning himself.

He has decided to learn to make knives under the guidance of artist Robert Buckle.

"He really likes doing it and he wants to get better at making them," said translator Sharpe-Staples.

Tookoome keeps himself busy with a variety of art forms to work with. He works each day, and when he is not working, he rests.

"Sometimes he just thinks about drawing them and comes up with ideas," she said.

Fans of his work can expect many more drawings out of him in the coming years.

"He's going to continue making them as long as he can - as long has he can see good," said Sharpe-Staples.