“TRANSFORMATION,” by Turatura Ragee, undated, left, and “Shaman Spirit,” by See Pootoogook, 1992, are among the Inuit pieces Rabbi Harry Sky donated to the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

“TRANSFORMATION,” by Turatura Ragee, undated, left, and “Shaman Spirit,” by See Pootoogook, 1992, are among the Inuit pieces Rabbi Harry Sky donated to the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

BRUNSWICK — Few people expect that a rabbi in Maine might be a thoughtful collector of Canadian Inuit art.

Rabbi Harry Sky, rabbi emeritus of Temple Beth El in Portland, is such a man.

DEAN ABRAMSON PHOTOS

DEAN ABRAMSON PHOTOS

After he was given a piece of Inuit art as a gift, Sky discovered that many Inuit carvings and prints depicting transformations resonate with his belief that all people are “in a state of becoming.”

In 2011, he donated his collection of 36 carvings and two prints to the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum on the Bowdoin College campus. The Rabbi Harry Z. and Ruth L. Sky Collection includes pieces by well-known artists, including Kenojuak Ashevak and George Arluk.

This winter Arctic Museum staff members traveled to Greensboro, N.C., where Sky now resides, to interview him about his collecting activities and get his perspective on the significance of individual pieces.

The result is a new exhibition, “In a State of Becoming: Inuit Art from the Collection of Rabbi Harry Sky,” currently on view at the Arctic Museum, and running through April 16, 2014.

The exhibit combines Rabbi Sky’s commentary on what individual pieces have meant to him with the museum’s explanations of ways in which individual works reflect Inuit world views.

Sky collected pieces that resonate with his belief that humans are always growing and learning. The carvings and prints he collected are like snapshots, catching a person, creature or spirit in the process of transforming and exhibiting physical attributes of what it was and what it will be.

While many collectors are drawn to beautiful works, Sky selected artistically strong works that depict the joys, stresses and sometimes horrors of life.

The pieces that combine human and animal traits are based on Inuit beliefs that in the distant past humans and animals easily assumed one another’s forms. Shamans took on the physical attributes of their animal-like spirit helpers as well. Also, dangerous spirits could assume animal forms. The close link between humans and animals continues to be reflected in contemporary Inuit perspectives.

“Over the last three years the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum has received several important donations of Alaskan and Canadian Inuit art, including a large gift from Robert and Judith Toll,” said Susan Kaplan, director of the Arctic Museum. “A handful of artists’ works are represented in both the Toll and Sky gifts, but otherwise the collections are quite distinct, reflecting the individual tastes of the collectors.

“We are thrilled to have both collections, for they offer a diversity of exhibition opportunities and are wonderful teaching resources,” said Kaplan.

Plans to have Rabbi Sky tour the exhibition and give a gallery talk will be announced at a later date.

The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, located on the first floor of Hubbard Hall on the Bowdoin College campus, is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays. The museum is closed Mondays and national holidays.

For more information call 725-3416 or go to www.bowdoin.edu/arctic-museum.


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