Two Early Unidentified Inukjuak Sculptures

By: Palmer Jarvis

Held online from May 24-29, 2024, our spring auction of Inuit & First Nations Art includes two early and unidentified sculptures from Inukjuak (Port Harrison).

Lot 102 – Unidentified Artist, Inukjuak (Port Harrison), WOMAN WITH KAKINIIT (TATTOOS), CA. 1955. Stone, soap inlay; unsigned; old collector’s inventory label on underside reads “2”; 3.5 x 4 x 2.75 in — 8.9 x 10.2 x 7 cm. Estimate $1,000-$2,000

Unidentified Artist, Inukjuak (Port Harrison), WOMAN WITH KAKINIIT (TATTOOS), CA. 1955

Woman with Kakiniit (Tattoos) is characterized by the artist’s rendering of the figure’s apparently joyous expression, finely incised Kakiniit, and the sculpture’s exquisitely polished surface.

The sculpture was collected by artist Harold Pfeiffer, and was previously offered at Waddington’s in 1998 as part of the estate of the collector.

Harold Pfeiffer studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Quebec City from 1925-27. Pfeiffer then travelled to London and Paris in the early 1930s to further his artistic development at notable galleries including the British Museum, The Victoria and Albert, the Tate Gallery and the Louvre. (1)

During the early 1950s, Pfeiffer’s friends James and Alma Houston suggested that he join the federal department of Northern Affairs to work with tuberculosis patients in hospitals and rehabilitation centres in the Arctic. There Pfeiffer would work with many of the important artists who were treated at the hospital, most notably Kenojuak Ashevak.

Over his lifetime, Pfeiffer sculpted many portraits of Inuit sitters with whom he was well acquainted. Some of Pfeiffer’s most exceptional portraits were of fellow artists.

Ninety-one portraits by Pfeiffer of Inuit and First Nations subjects are held in two major collections: one in the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, and the other in the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife. His work is also held in a number of other public collections, including the Itsanitaq Museum in Churchill, Manitoba, le Musée d’art in Joliette, Quebec, the RCMP Museum in Regina, Saskatchewan and the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec.

The Man Who Makes Heads with His Hands: The Art and Life of Harold Pfeiffer, Sculptor, was published just after his death in 1997.


Lot 155 – Unidentified Artist, Inukjuak (Port Harrison). HUNTER WITH SPEAR AND AVATAQ, CA. 1953, stone, ivory, wood, sinew, sealskin; unsigned. 19.25 x 10.5 x 6 in — 48.9 x 26.7 x 15.2 cm. Estimate $8,000-$12,000

Unidentified Artist, Inukjuak (Port Harrison), HUNTER WITH SPEAR AND AVATAQ, CA. 1953

Perhaps no single image is more closely associated with early Inuit art, or the mythology of its makers, than the hunter poised with a harpoon. Many of the important early sculptors thought of themselves as hunters first, and artists second. A hunter with a harpoon is the subject of pioneering artist Akeeaktashuk’s most iconic figures, as it is in Niviaxie’s early totemic image Man Hunting at Seal Hole in the Ice.

In the early and mid-1950s powerful camp leaders such as Abraham Nastapoka, Sarollie Weetaluktook, and Johnny Inukpuk were the first to take up sculpting in Inukjuak (Port Harrison), and it is from this early period that Hunter with Harpoon and Avataq dates. (3) While the authorship of many early Inukjuak sculptures has been identified, the output of some artists has been consistently challenging to identify. Three of the region’s most lauded sculptors, Akeeaktashuk, Isa Smiler, and Johnny Inukpuk are known for a remarkable versatility of styles.

Hunter with Harpoon and Avataq has been sculpted on a grand scale, well in excess of twice the size of many large Inukjuak compositions, and notably nearly identical in size to the towering Hunter (Cat. No. EC 82-603) by Johnny Inukpuk from 1971 in the Collection of the TD Bank Financial Group. (4)

Related Works:
TD Bank Financial Group Collection. Cat. No. EC 82-603.,_johnny029.jpg
Darlene Coward Wight, Early Masters: Inuit Sculpture 1949-1955 (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2006), 84.
Waddington’s Auctioneers, Toronto, ON, 18 Nov 2018, lot 103


Held online from May 24-29, Waddington’s is pleased to present our major spring auction of exceptional Inuit & First Nations Art. Important artworks this season include works of sculpture and graphics by Karoo Ashevak, Jessie Oonark, Kiakshuk, John Pangnark, Pauta Saila, Aisa Qupirualu Alasua, Parr, Osuitok Ipeelee, Kiugak Ashoona, Joe Talirunili, John Kavik, Kenojuak Ashevak, Johnny Inukpuk, Thomas Ugjuk, Ennutsiak, Davidialuk Alasua Amittu, Beau Dick, Charlie James, David Ruben Piqtoukun, Abraham Apakark Anghik, Manasie Akpaliapik, Judas Ullulaq, Barnabus Arnasungaaq, and John Tiktak.

Previews will be available at our Toronto gallery, located at 275 King Street East, Second Floor, Toronto:

Thursday, May 23 from 10 am to 5 pm
Friday, May 24 from 10 am to 5 pm
Saturday, May 25 from 12 pm to 4 pm
Sunday, May 26 from 12 pm to 4 pm
Monday, May 27 from 10 am to 5 pm
Tuesday, May 28 from 10 am to 5 pm
Or by appointment.

Please contact us for more information

(1) John A. Stevens and Harold Pfeiffer, The Man Who Makes Heads with His Hands: The Art and Life of Harold Pfeiffer, Sculptor (Ontario: General Store Publishing House, 1997), 11, 17.
(2) Waddington’s Auctioneers, Important Sale by Auction (Toronto: Island Communications, 1998), 3.

(3) Darlene Coward Wight, Early Masters: Inuit Sculpture 1949-1955 (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2006), 22.
(4) Wight, Early Masters, 84.

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