Okpik Pitseolak (1946 – 2019) was born in Kimmirut, NU, but spent most of her life working and raising her family in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU. She began carving in the late 1960s, initially assisting her father-in-law, the great camp leader, photographer and artist Peter Pitseolak (1902 – 1973). Learning from careful observation, she developed her own particular carving style. Inspired by moments that she experienced in her own life, or by stories that she had heard from friends, Pitseolak’s art offers an intimate reflection upon scenes we encounter every day.
Many of Pitseolak’s highly polished and evocative sculptures are self-portraits, sometimes showing the artist with her children. Engaged in common activities like sewing clothing, carrying water and breastfeeding, Pitseolak’s women are strong, empowered and often smiling widely, further animated through their dynamic, curving lines. The artist’s most unique sculptures are embellished with delicate strands of beads . Applying the techniques learned from watching Simatuq, her paternal grandmother, Pitseolak decorated the hair and garments of her figures with the beads, punctuating the dark, rich stone with pops of bright colour. Sedna Combing Her Hair (2002), provides an example of Pitseolak’s exploration of more whimsical themes.
As a member of Inuit Art Foundation’s Board of Directors, Pitseolak advocated for artist safety and mentored the younger generation, including her son Jamasee Pitseolak, who like his mother has developed his own unique approach to sculpting with stone. Pitseolak attended several workshops organized by the IAF throughout the 1990s and completed courses in jewellery making from the Nunavut Arctic College .
Pitseolak’s exhibition record is impressive, with her pieces touring throughout Canada and abroad in shows such as Isumavut: The Artistic Expression of Nine Cape Dorset Women (1994 – 1995), held at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, QC. Her sculptures can be found in the public collections of the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Manitoba, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, ON, and the Musee des beaux-arts in Montreal, QC, among others.
1999: Commissioned alongside Pootoogook Qiatsuk to carve a tuberculosis memorial in Kinngait.