A hotbed of experimentation and creativity

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Creative cross-pollination thrives in an old building on Iqaluit’s Ring Road.

Jewelry and metalwork second-year student Peter Nowkyook, left, instructor Ellen Fraser and first-year student Gregory Morgan discuss the various student pieces that will be exhibited at the L.A. Pai Gallery in Ottawa May 11 to 31. Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo
Jewelry and metalwork second-year student Peter Nowkyook, left, instructor Ellen Fraser and first-year student Gregory Morgan discuss the various student pieces that will be exhibited at the L.A. Pai Gallery in Ottawa May 11 to 31. Michele LeTourneau/NNSL photo

Building 619 is home to the jewelry and metalwork diploma program, where throughout the school year instructors and students bring their imaginative lives to material form.

As a result, there are two exhibitions to note: instructor Ellen Fraser’s current exhibition Silence at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit, and an upcoming students’ exhibition Aggakta Sanajangit (Made With Our Hands) at the L.A. Pai Gallery in Ottawa.

Fraser began teaching jewelry-making at satellite locations in Nunavut with a four-month stint in Arviat in 1998, then shorter 10-week courses, including in Kimmirut. She’s also taught in Pangnirtung and Nunavik.

“I was a self-employed jeweler (since 1979), with a family, so I only did it occasionally,” said Fraser, who also owned an art gallery selling Inuit art.

“So I would do that, as well as teach, as well as make my own jewelry. I was pretty busy.”

But Fraser sold the gallery a couple of years ago and decided to teach for a full two years, leaving her family at home.

Gregory Morgan, meanwhile, a sought-after carver when he came to the program as a student, made his way from Hall Beach to Pond Inlet and now to the jewelry program in Iqaluit, bringing his family with him.

“I really wanted to learn how to solder silver and add my carving into the silver,” he said. “I love it.”

About the upcoming exhibit in Ottawa, he says though he’s already recognized for his carving, he’d like to also be recognized for this work.

“I want to learn more and after I finish with the second year and graduate I want to go for goldsmithing.”

Morgan has also created a set of earrings, combining ivory and silver. They are sleek, contemporary masterpieces, as are his rings.

“I want to make more earrings like that, with scrimshaw (etching on ivory filled with India ink),” Morgan said.

Fraser calls the work both contemporary and traditional, and Morgan agrees.

“There’s a fair amount of pressure to make symbols of Inuit culture. But there’s also the desire to be your own designer,” said Fraser.

Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, teaching a course for the program, told the class: “Don’t let people tell you what you made isn’t Inuit art. You’re Inuk, whatever you make is Inuit art.”
This left an impression on student and instructor alike.

“I was so grateful she presented that, as a teacher,” said Fraser.

Morgan nods.

Fraser says teaching has been rewarding, and she’s had some amazing students and co-instructors over the past two years.

“I learn a lot from the students. For instance, they learned scrimshaw from Looty Pijamini. I participated and learned about that, as well. I learned a lot about ivory and baleen, from both Looty and the other carvers in the course,” said Fraser.

She says most of the students have been out there working quickly to make a living.

“I’ve really tried to impress upon them to take time. Learn slowly. Do things that are difficult. Learn from your mistakes. This is the time to experiment. You don’t get to do that when you’re earning a living,” she said.

“It’s pretty nice to see what happens when people loosen up and play.”

Fraser took her own advice, bringing loads of canvas and paint with her when she came up to teach.

“It was the perfect time. I’d always wanted to paint.”

Three-day blizzards had her staring out the window, painting what was outside.

“The fun part was when I started gluing fabric onto the canvas and making the canvases textured. I would fold cloth, glue it and gesso it so that it was a solid ground to paint on. I started putting paint on and wiping it off. It was looking more and more like rocks …”

The result can be seen at Fraser’s Nunatta Sunakkutaangit exhibition, which continues to May 14.

Morgan will be joined by fellow students Simon Kadlutsiak, Peter Nowkyook, Meekai Duval, Gary Kalluk, Leevity Paneak, Jonas Audlakiak and Anne Qammaniq-Hellwig for the opening of their exhibition May 11.

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Michele LeTourneau first arrived at NNSL's headquarters in Yellowknife in1998, with a BA honours in Theatre. For four years she documented the arts across the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Following a very short stint as a communications officer with the Government of the Northwest Territories, Michele spent a decade at a community-based environmental monitoring board in the mining industry, where she worked with Inuit, Chipewyan, Tlicho, Yellowknives Dene and Metis elders to help develop traditional knowledge and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit contributions for monitoring and management plans. She rejoined NNSL and moved to Iqaluit in May 2014 to write for Nunavut News. Michele has received a dozen awards for her work with NNSL.