SHREVEPORT, LA -- Jean and Jack Stein began collecting Inuit art thirteen or fourteen years ago. Their interest was piqued by a book by a Canadian author. The book: People of the Deer. The writer: Farley Mowat. Mr. Mowat writes movingly of the Inuit, their lives and their struggle for survival in a hostile environment. After reading this book and subsequent books by the same author, the Steins developed an interest in Inuit art and began buying sculpture, prints and drawings by Inuit artists from various Arctic communities. If the collection continued to be housed in their home the Steins would enjoy it, and friends would enjoy it, but it could not be used to bring awareness of Inuit an and their culture. When the collection grew to about 150 pieces it was felt that it deserved broader exposure. Half of it is sculpture and half are prints, both color and black and white.
During the 1980s the Steins gave a collection of the works of Don Brown, who was chairman of the art department for 24 years. This gift consisted of 132 pieces, including paintings, drawings, etchings and lithographs, many depicting scenes of Caddo Lake. At age 59, in 1958, he died on his houseboat on Caddo Lake. The Steins knew the educational value of this regional collection would benefit the students and the community. Thirty-five of these pieces were recently loaned to the Michelson Museum of Art in Marshall.
Indigenous peoples worldwide have been treated by their governments at various times with indifference, paternalism, or hostility. Frequently children have been removed from their families and forcibly sent to boarding schools where they grew away from their own language and culture.
The word Eskimo is of Cree Indian origin and is thought to mean "eaters of raw meat." Inuit, which is the way they refer to themselves, means "the people," and Inuk is the singular. The term Eskimo, though in broad use worldwide, is less favored in Canada and by the Inuit themselves.
The Inuit have a different view of themselves in relation to the world around them from ours. Each animal, bird, and sea creature has a spirit, a soul, if you will or Ina. An animal killed for food must be killed with respect and then thanked for providing sustenance. Men and animals, especially shamans, had the ability to assume each other's forms, and to change back and forth. While in a shamanistic trance and an individual could rise into the sky where his vision of events below was more all encompassing.
Historically the Inuit lived a nomadic hunting existence. Disease was unknown before the coming of the white man, and deaths occurred due to starvation, hunting or fishing accidents or violence. When the Canadian government stepped in, groups of Inuit were removed to ready-made villages composed of graceless ugly houses. They were thrust into a market economy. Many still went out on hunts, and if hunting was good they returned with fox or seat skins to sell, but there had to be another means of securing legal tender. Gradually and slowly a movement began to encourage drawing and other artistic expression- Many men during the long winters had spent tome time making small carvings, usually of walrus ivory, whalebone, or caribou antler, sometimes to decorate a harpoon handle, or such. The women were often skilled with a needle serving warm clothing and boots from animal skins and furs, so some sense of design was developed already and just needed to be encouraged. Over a period of time print shop co-operatives grew up and the art from different settlements took on different distinct characteristics. Professionals from the south visited and advised the print shops. More and more Inuit artists are handling their own affairs. Sculpture workshops are held, and materials are being published outlining safety procedures for stone carvers. The Inuit Art Foundation, publishers of the Inuit Art Quarterly, sponsors an annual workshop held in Vermont for sculptors to work in Vermont marble.
Arctic Masters opens on April 26 and will be on display through August. It is accompanied by maps, panels about the different regions, and a gallery guide with information on the Inuit and some of their legends. A Canadian video on the people and their art will play continuously in the main gallery and children's books win be available upstairs in the children's corner. Inuit music will be played in all the galleries.
The Meadows Museum is open to the public and is handicap accessible. There is no admission and the hours are Tuesday-Friday noon to 4 p.m.; Sat-Sun 1-4 p.m.; Closed Mondays.
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