Lukie Airut

Lukie Airut (1942-2018) was a sculptor from Igloolik, NU. Born at an outpost camp near Alanarjuk Lake on Baffin Island, he spent his formative years on the land [1]. Airut began carving in his early 20s and was taught by his father, George Kappianaq how to work with stone and bone using hand tools [2]. He used materials such as walrus teeth and bowhead whale skulls that he sourced while hunting [3]. His experience of the land also influenced his sculptures, which featured animals, birds and people in traditional camps.

Severe winter temperatures in the Arctic often prevent carvers from working outdoors for many months of the year. Airut preferred to work with bone to avoid both working outdoors in low temperatures as well as all the dust carving in stone can create [4]. Careful observation and lifelong experience came together in his work to create dynamic effects, with small details and surprising figures emerging from stone and bone. Airut was praised by both curator Darlene Coward Wright and his cousin, printmaker Germaine Arnaktauyok, for the intricate detail of his carvings [5]. He also studied jewellery design at Nunavut Arctic College, where he learned to work on a smaller scale [6]. These skills transferred to his carving practice, as he incorporated miniature figures and fine details into larger pieces of bone. Airut even included detachable jewellery in some of his works, such as the sculpture Inuit Girl with Kudluk/Ulu Earrings (n.d.).

Airut used the natural shape of the bone as a template for his carved scenes, which he populated with people and animals hidden or emerging from dips and crevices. His works were carved in the round, inviting viewing from all angles. In An Elaborately Carved Skull (2008), Airut depicts the interconnectivity between people and non-human beings, encompassed within the landscape of a walrus’ skull [7]. Hunters descend the tusks, travelling by qajaq and qamutiik (dogsled) in pursuit of narwhal. From their position at the base of the walrus’ skull, inset stone figures appear as though they are filling the space with sounds of storytelling and drum beats. This work is an example of how Airut was able to channel his skills as a hunter, in particular his eye for detail and precision.

Lukie Airut participated in a carving demonstration at the Nunavut Arts Festival in 2005 in Iqaluit, NU. Airut’s work has been exhibited internationally and is in the collection of many institutions, including the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, NT and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, ON. Additionally, he received the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2004 for his years of service with the Canadian Rangers [8]. Airut was an important figure in his community and in the field of Inuit art.


Citations/Footnotes

1. Sonia Gunderson, “Lukie Airut: Igloolik’s Carving Wizard,” Inuit Art Quarterly 21, no. 3 (Fall 2006): 11.
2. Gunderson, "Lukie Airut: Igloolik's Caring Wizard," 11.
3. Ibid., 11.
4. Ibid., 11.
5. Ibid., 11.
6. “Visit the Artist: Airut, Luke,” Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association, accessed February 13, 2018. http://www.nacaarts.org/home/index.php/en/artists/artist-biographies/275-luke_airut.
7. “Lot 213 LUKE AIRUT (1942-), E5-556, Igloolik,” Waddington’s, accessed February 13, 2018. http://waddingtons.ca/pastauction/45/lot-213.
8. “The Golden Jubilee Medal: Airut, Private L.,” The Governor General of Canada, accessed February 13, 2018. https://www.gg.ca/honour.aspx?id=5255&t=6&ln=Airut.