UNIDENTIFIED, Arctic Quebec / Nunavik
5 x 10.5 x 3.5 in — 12.7 x 26.7 x 8.9 cm
It has been challenging to attribute even a community, let alone an artist, to this wonderful sculpture. Neither the style nor the stone are clear indicators in this case. Because of the work’s obviously early date we think it was most likely carved in Inukjuak or Puvirnituq, but we cannot rule out Cape Dorset either. Darlene Wight’s important Early Masters exhibition catalogue (WAG, 2006) illustrates bears by a number of famous artists from all three communities. We would suggest that this extraordinary work is at least as impressive as any of those fine examples.
As with many early Inuit masterpieces, this bear is both naïve and sophisticated, with a charming yet quite commanding presence. Whether by necessity or by design, the artist carved a dangerous-looking set of teeth from the stone rather than insetting ivory teeth or fangs. On the other hand he faintly incised whiskers – an unusual and charming touch that counterbalances the bear’s ferocity. Clearly the artist had an intimate knowledge of bears, respected them greatly, but also loved them.
First Arts: Inuit & First Nations Art Auction www.firstarts.ca
an Ottawa private collection