From the Office of the Governor General of Canada - 2003

Relying on their expertise in metalwork, four Inuit artists have joined forces under the direction of silversmith Beth M. Biggs to produce “Sinatumavut” (Our Dreams), a sterling silver piece fashioned in the shape of a qullik (an Inuit oil lamp) to honour the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien’s strong connection with Canada’s North. 

Beth M. Biggs was responsible for the design and construction of this unique piece which illustrates the artists’ powerful interpretation of traditional Inuit images and which recalls the importance of hunting and fishing in the lives of their ancestors and in the nurturing of their legends. After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Bachelor of Arts Education from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Ms. Biggs pursued her studies at SUNY New Paltz, New York where she obtained a Master’s degree in Fine Arts in 1996. Since 1997, Ms. Biggs has been the Senior Instructor of the Fine Arts and Crafts Program at Nunavut Arctic College.

Pootoogook Qiatsuk is one of the four artists who worked under Ms. Biggs’ direction. He has been carving various kinds of stone since childhood and has a strong interest in the ancient masks which were part of traditional Inuit life. Qiatsuk’s image of a man holding up the world with an arctic char and a wolf against a backdrop of the Northern Lights was selected for the inside of the dish as it was felt that this image linked the physical world with the spiritual. A member of the salmon family, the arctic char is the dominant species of the Arctic Coast and, for centuries, represented a vital food resource for the Inuit who relied on it to sustain themselves through the harsh winter. Tundra wolves are social animals and share their meat with their pack, eating only what they require and frequently abstaining from food for days in much the same way observed by the traditional Inuit people.

Like Pootoogook Qiatsuk, Okpik Pitseolak is another artist who has been carving in stone since her youth. She enjoys sculpting images of women, children and animals, as well as figures from Inuit legends. Ms. Pitseolak carved the six bird-men figures on the base of the piece, rendering them with the crisp naturalism and sense of decorative stylization that characterize much of the sculpture of Cape Dorset where she is from.

Serapio Ittusardjuat also began carving at a young age, making items for dog teams and toys for his brother and himself out of ivory and caribou antlers. Among his favourite animal figures are bears, owls and walruses. Ittusardjuat carved the “kissing walrus” figures on the bottom of the dish, capturing in silver these animals which appear to kiss as they lock their tusks together in conflict. In a land where resources were often scarce, the vast populations of marine mammals such as the massive walrus provided the raw materials that enabled Inuit society to survive in one of the world’s harshest climates.

Therese Ukaliannuk also recalls Inuit traditions in her soapstone and ivory carvings, her sewing of caribou skins and her intricate use of beadwork. She sculpted the impressive fish tail handles of the dish, another reminder of the importance of fishing in the North.

All four artists have studied or continue to study at the Nunavut Arctic College where Ms. Biggs currently teaches. Their love of the North, of Inuit traditions and legends has inspired them to produce this lovely work of art which celebrates the stark majesty of the wild but beautiful land that is their home.