Peter Pitseolak

 

Peter Pitseolak in his studio.
Source

Credit:  Charles Gimpel/LAC

Documents in the LAC Collection that trace his life and times.

Born:  November 1902, on Nottingham Island, Northwest Territories (present-day Nunavut)

Died:  September 30, 1973, at Cape Dorset (Kinngait) Northwest Territories (present-day Nunavut)
 
Father:  Inukjuarjuk (born circa 1849 at Fort Chimo (Kuujjuaq), Quebec; died 1915 at Etidliajuk (Northwest Territories)

 

Mother:  Kooyoo  (died 1928)
 
Wives:  Annie (died 1939) and Aggeok (born 1906; died 1977)
 
Inuit historian, camp leader, artist, writer and photographer, Peter Pitseolak's work around the community of Cape Dorset, on the southwest coast of Baffin Island, dates from the 1940s. A rich tradition of creativity and artistic ability has emerged from Nunavut and particularly Cape Dorset. Inspired by the region’s traditional Inuit culture, legends and the Arctic environment, the area’s artists have drawn unparalleled inspiration and distinct themes from their heritage and surroundings.
 
Pitseolak spent much of his life in traditional camps in an area called Seekooseelak on the southwest coast of Baffin Island, documenting elements of traditional culture in his drawings, paintings, sound recordings and photographs.                     
 
As a boy, Pitseolak met photographer Robert J. Flaherty. Flaherty is best known for his 1922 film Nanook of the North.

Chronology

1922

Peter Pitseolak and his brothers, Pootoogook and Eetoolook, begin to earn a wage. Their work includes building houses, and moving gravel outside the newly constructed homes. The brothers hunt walrus and silver fox and process the skins for the Hudson’s Bay Company. 
 
Later, as a respected hunter, Pitseolak becomes the “boss” of a team of hunters.

1923

Peter Pitseolak marries Annie, who is from Kimmirut (previously Lake Harbour, Northwest Territories). Together they have seven children, of whom only two daughters (Udluriak and Kooyoo) survive until adulthood. Annie dies of tuberculosis in 1939. 

1939

Pitseolak paints a series of watercolours for John Buchan, who would later become 2nd Baron Tweedsmuir. John Buchan was the son of Governor General John Buchan, Ist Baron Tweedsmuir, and was in the Hudson’s Bay Company’s service between 1937 and 1939.

1940’s

Pitseolak and his team of hunters work for the Baffin Trading Company supplying it with sealskins, polar bear skins and walrus hides since the Hudson's Bay Company will only take fox pelts.

1941

He begins to live with Aggeok, his collaborator. Born in Omanikjuak camp (Nunavut), Aggeok will later become his second wife.

1942

Pitseolak acquires his first camera from a Roman Catholic missionary.
 
He takes pictures of himself, his family and community in real-life situations or posed with traditional clothing (1) and implements (2).
 
Pitseolak develops his first photographs in an igloo.

1945

Pitseolak falls ill with tuberculosis, which plagues him throughout the 1950s.
 
Pitseolak’s work coincides with a period of immense social upheaval (3) for the Inuit. The majority of Inuit are moved from seasonal hunting camps to permanent settlements. Cape Dorset is one of these settlements.

1946

He establishes a camp at Keatuk on Baffin Island and becomes the leader or “camp boss” of ten families. Both his father, Inukjuarjuk, and grandfather, Etidluie, had been leaders in their time. 

1958

The West Baffin Co-operative opens during this period, giving many Inuit employment.

1961

He leaves his camp at Keatuk and returns to the settlement at Cape Dorset.

His Legacy

Peter Pitseolak was concerned that much of the traditional knowledge(4) would be forgotten. He used writing, sketching and photography to record a vanishing way of life by documenting Inuit customs, hunting techniques, stories and myths.
 
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