November 21, 2010

Imagination takes shape at Bowdoin Arctic Museum

From staff reports

BRUNSWICK —The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College has opened its latest exhibition, "Imagination Takes Shape: Canadian Inuit Art from the Robert and Judith Toll Collection." The exhibition will be on view at the Brunswick museum for more than a year, closing Dec. 6, 2011.

click image to enlarge

“Qiviuk’s Journey,” stonecut and stencil, Baker Lake, 1973.

Photo by Artic Museum

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“Mother and Child,” soapstone, Arviat, 1968.

Photo by Dean Abramson

The exhibition includes 86 works selected from a much larger collection recently donated to the museum by the Tolls. The prints and carvings were made in the past 50 years by artists living in communities across the Canadian Arctic. Through these works, Inuit artists tell stories about their traditional and changing way of life, capturing everyday activities, depicting episodes in myths and legends, and reflecting on their close family and community bonds.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, Inuit artists approach their work with imagination. A hunter takes on the appearance of the animal he is hunting, people who fill a man's thoughts appear on the page as if they surround him, and on close inspection, dozens of human faces create an igloo, a symbol of family and home.

"These pieces are remarkable," curator Genevieve LeMoine said in a news release. "They are engaging on so many levels. People seeing them for the first time are amazed. Every time I look at a carving or a print, I discover something new."

The Tolls began purchasing carvings and prints made by Inuit artists from the Canadian Arctic in the 1960s. Over the next 40 years, they developed a significant collection, unusual for its focus on art from particular communities, especially Baker Lake and Arviat on the west side of Hudson Bay, and on works by multiple generations of artists from specific families.

When the Tolls began to look for a suitable home for their collection, they wanted one where the collection would be used for teaching and research as well as shared in public exhibitions.

"The Arctic Museum has a strong record of using our collections in all of these ways, and involving Bowdoin students at all stages of our work is a priority," Susan Kaplan, director of the museum, said in a prepared statement. "This exhibit is a great example of that; students have helped catalogue the collection, research artist backgrounds, and explore exhibition themes. They have been assisting with the installation and are developing some programming around the exhibit. This spring, some will be serving as tour guides as well."

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is on the first floor of Hubbard Hall on the Bowdoin campus. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For information, call 725-3416 or visit


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