Pitseolak Ashoona Biography

Pitseolak Ashoona

Canadian Inuit



Pitseolak Ashoona, better known as Pitseolak, was an Inuit Canadian artist from the Northwest Territories. She was born between 1904 and 1908 on Nottingham Island (Tujajuak), NWT. She was considered a member of one of the last generations of Inuit to be raised traditionally, utilizing the hunting and gathering and ceremonies known to the Inuit since before 1000 BC. She is known for her lively prints and drawings, which show "the things we did long ago before there were many white men"

In 1922 she married Ashoona, a hunter of Baffin Island, and they had 17 children, only 6 of whom she raised through to adulthood; some died in childhood, while others were adopted into other families in the community as was the custom in Inuit communities.. Her husband passed away at the age of 40, leaving her to raise the children alone. Her cousin and a government administrator who saw to her well being inspired her to try her hand at drawing and printmaking, in the late 1950s. The opportunity to become an artist came about as a result of the Cape Dorset arts and crafts program initiated by the then Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources (now Indigenous and Northern Affairs). The program was designed to help the Inuit make the transition from subsistence hunting and trapping to the wage economy of settled communities. By the end of her life in 1983 she had created over 7000 documented original works, their themes revolving around daily traditional Inuit life and Inuit legends.

Pitseolak's sons Kumwartok, Quagag, Kiawak Ashoona and daughter Napachie Pootoogook also became artists. Pitseolak’s granddaughters Shuvinai Ashoona and Annie Pootoogook are both regarded as significant contemporary artists. The 1970s was a productive period for Pitseolak and it brought her wide recognition and success. In 1971, she published Pictures Out of My Life, an edited transcription of interviews conducted by Dorothy Harley Eber interwoven with drawings. The book was published in English and Inuktitut.

n 1974, Pitseolak was inducted into the Royal Academy of Arts. In 1976, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development organized a retrospective of her drawings from 1962 to 1974 that toured multiple locations in Canada and the United States, including the National Gallery of Canada and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. In 1977, she was inducted into the Order of Canada.

Pitseolak died on May 28, 1983 at Cape Dorset, Baffin Island, Canada.