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Allan Houser: Tradition to Abstraction


Dancing Bear

Woman’s Amautiq

Whale Mask

Heard Museum visitors can experience the first of the exhibits created from the Dr. E. Daniel Albrecht Collection, when the Heard welcomes the traveling exhibit Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection.

The exhibit was organized by the Heard Museum, then traveled to nine museums and galleries, including venues as varied as the Louisiana Art Museum, Anchorage Museum of History and Art and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum in Connecticut, before making its way back to the Heard.

The exhibition’s 150 sculptures, textiles and graphics offer a rare opportunity to view more than 2,000 years of Canadian Inuit artwork crafted from stone, antlers, tusks, whale baleen, paint, wood, pencil and pen. It’s also worth noting that Arctic Spirit draws from the very best pieces of the Albrecht Collection. Animals such as the mighty musk ox, birds, bears and caribou—all of which are vital to the Inuit—spring to life. Everyday life in Inuit communities is vividly portrayed, including hunting, parenting and even dances. Also, don’t miss stunning newer works by award-winning Inuit artists such as Othniel “Art” Oomtituk.

The exhibit is curated by Ingo Hessel, who has researched Inuit art extensively for more than 20 years. Hessel notes that, although “much Inuit art looks back to the distant or recent past, there is so much more.” For example, Hessel notes that, “for every characteristic that may strike the first-time viewer as strange, there will be another aspect that strikes a chord that seems somehow universal and familiar.” The reason? Inuit art is, at its heart, true folk art, Hessel says. “It is made by ordinary people who happen to be Inuit, and it is made to communicate directly to ordinary people and not to art connoisseurs and critics.”

“With the Inuit, it’s a case of necessity yielding the birth of creativity,” says Albrecht. “These people are very resourceful. They’re used to making something from nothing. They use what they have. Bones, stone, animal skins—that’s what they have.” However, newer artists such as Oomtituk now use red cedar wood and other more modern materials to create artwork.

A 240-page catalog full of four-color photography and based on the exhibit is currently available in the Shop. Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art From the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum delves into the lives and the works of the artists in the exhibit as well as providing an artistic guidebook to the communities of the Far North. Funding for the publication was provided through the generous support of the Dr. & Mrs. Dean Nichols Publication Fund and through Dr. E. Daniel Albrecht and Martha Albrecht.

The exhibition will be on display through January 16, 2011.

Pauta Siala (Inuit), b. 1917, Dancing Bear, 1975, stone.
Lizzie Naiktaa Ittinuar (Inuit), b. 1929, Rankin Inlet (Kangirlliniq), Nunavut, Ceremonial Beaded Woman’s Amautiq, 1998-1999, white fabric, beads, embroidery floss, 47”.
Othniel Art Oomittuk (Inupiaq), b. 1964, , “If I Were a Whale,” 2002, red cedar, baleen, sinew, walrus ivory.
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