Pitseolak Ashoona

Pitseolak Ashoona was born into the traditional nomadic lifestyle of the Inuit people. In her lifetime, she witnessed and, through her fertile art, commented on the momentous changes wrought to her culture by the transition from living on the tundra to village life and the gradual adoption of modern western ways. Her enormous artistic output is also of great anthropological value, as it constitutes a record of the genius of the Inuit people's collected physical and psychological survival sklls in the harshest climactic conditions ever faced in human history.

In her work "Pitseolak, Pictures out of my life", Dorothy Harley Eber describes the pioneer print artist as being "wise, humorous, a sage commentator on the sociology of change and, of course, the possessor of a remarkable talent" (p. 4). It was James Houston, a visionary, an artist and the intrepid government administrator in the newly established village of Cape Dorset, who discovered the sensitive, knowing and capable grandmother Pitseolak fifty years ago, and encouraged her to record Inuit traditions by drawing "the old ways" (Pictures, p. 50). Pitseolak responded with more than eight thousand original images during an artistic career that spanned more than two decades. Many of her drawings were eventually transformed into limited-edition prints that were released by the Cape Dorset Annual Graphics Collection.

In 1960, Terry Ryan took over from James Houston as the artistic director at the Cape Dorset Co-operative. His careful and caring stewardship nurtured the graphics program for decades, giving its artists the confidence to create a wealth of distinctive images which often spoke of their disappearing lifestyle. As it grew into "an internationally recognized artists' colony" (Pictures, p.6), Cape Dorset's economic and social structures were deeply affected.

Pitseolak Ashoona's legacy is the universal and the encyclopedic character of her artistic output, as well as it being her artistic influence on many of her family members. Once her creativity was tapped, she proceeded to record all the minute details of the sophisticated lifestyle of the nomadic Inuit as no one else has - faithfully, humourously, whimsically, generously and unreservedly.

Pitseolak passed on her vast personal achievement as an artist to her children, her daughters-in-law and to many of her descendants who inherited her creativity and artistic vision.


Pitseolak (1907-1983) married Ashoona.

Their five children that became sculptors are sons Namoonai, Qaqaq, Koomwartok, Ottokie (all deceased) and Kiawak, and daughter Napachie (deceased) who became a graphic artist.

Mayoreak was married to Qaqaq Ashoona - their children that became sculptors are sons Ohito and Ottokie and daughter Ningeosiak.

Koomwartok married Mary (also a sculptor and print artist) - their son Kavavau became a sculptor.

Kiawak married the graphic artist Sorosilutu - their children that became sculptors are son Napachie and daughter Olooriak - and their daughter Suvinai became a graphic artist.

Napachie married Eegeevudluk Pootoogook (printer and graphic artist) - their sons that became sculptors are See and Nujalia (deceased), their daughter Annie became a graphic artist, and their son Goo is responsible for many drawings as was Nujalia.

According to traditional Inuit custom Kiawak adopted Sii Ashoona, the grandson of Osuitok Ipellie (and the son of Sanagani Osuitok) - Sii thus became a fourth-generation sculptor of the Ashoona family.