Memories of Chidbirth, 1976 by Pitseolak Ashoona (1904-1983), Inuit
Memories of Chidbirth, 1976
by Pitseolak Ashoona (1904-1983), Inuit
Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Canada
stonecut and stencil
17” h x 25” w paper size
“When my first son was born three women held me. It was like that in old times—there would always be women who helped. Afterwards they would make magic wishes for the child—that a boy would be a good hunter, that a girl should have long hair, and that a child should do well at whatever they were doing.” - Pitseolak discussing the origin of the print "Memories of Childbirth" in the book Pitseolak: Pictures Out of My Life, an illustrated oral biography created from recorded interviews by Dorothy Harley Eber in 1970. In these interviews, and through her drawings and prints, Pitseolak makes what Inuit call "the old way" come alive, reflecting on life on the land, its pleasure and trials. Her story later became an NFB animated documentary
Pitseolak was born in 1904 on Nottingham Island in the Hudson Straights, while her family was en route from Sugluk (now Salluit) on the north coast of Arctic Quebec to the south coast of Baffin Island. She spent her childhood in several camps on the south Baffin coast. As a young woman she married Ashoona and she bore 17 children, Pitseolak was the mother of several Cape Dorset artists, the Ashoonas Ottochie, Komwartok, Kaka and Kiawak; and Napatchie Pootoogook. Ashoona died during a epidemic in the Nettling Lake area he was still in his prime, leaving Pitseolak to raise their young family on her own. She settled permanently in Cape Dorset in the early 1960’s.
Pitseolak was among the first in Cape Dorset to begin drawing, and the most prolific. She made close to 9,000 drawings during her 20 years in Cape Dorset. Her prints have appeared in every annual print collection since her work was first published in 1960. Her best and most authentic drawings were of “the old Eskimo ways”, a way of life deeply embedded in her memory.
Pitseolak was been awarded several honours over the years, and her work has been the subject of several projects. In 1971 the National Film Board produced a film based on her book, “Pitseolak: Pictures out of my life”. In 1974 she was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy and she received the Order of Canada in 1977. Pitseolak died in 1983 and is buried behind the Anglican Church in Cape Dorset. She fulfilled her promise to work on her drawings and prints until she was no longer able. Her vast legacy of orginal work now resides on long term loan at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection where it is being photographed, documented and exhibited. - West Baffin Island Co-op, 1999.