Thursday, August 27, 2009

Art from the Far North

The De Young just opened a new art gallery devoted to Eskimo and Inuit art. The artworks on view are all gifts to the museum from the Estate of the late Thomas G. Fowler (1943-2006), a multitalented artist, designer, collector and businessman. During his lifetime, he made many trips to Alaska, creating a comprehensive collection of rarity and scope that is unique in the Western United States. He started his collection in the 1970's and his passion for the Far North lead to the founding of the Inua Gallery and the 400-piece collection which is now the basis for collection now on display at the De Young.

The installation includes nearly 80 objects from approximately 3rd century B.C. to the contemporary era, representing both the aesthetic and the utilitarian sensibility of Arctic life. Objects include figures, baskets, bowls, tools, pipes, boxes, snuff containers, snow goggles, kayak models, cribbage boards, animal carvings, dolls, and stone sculptures in a variety of materials, such as ivory, whalebone, walrus tusk, sea mammal intestine, wood, fiber, and stone.

Yua, Spirit of the Arctic presents intriguing pieces whose original uses range from ceremonial to recreational. One notable object is a model of a Kashim, or dance house, with eleven dancers and musicians performing to maintain the balance of the community against the uncontrollable forces of nature and spirits that govern their survival.

This small wooden box with human and animal figures was made in Greenland, around 1890. The materials used are wood, bone and ivory. The tiny figures are fixed to the box with even smaller ivory nails. The top row of figures is male/female couples; their headdress can identify the women. The bottom row alternates images of seal and walrus, the animals so fundamental to Inuit and Eskimo survival.

This mask, from the Yukon (Central Alaska/Anvik tribes) is made of wood, sea mammal intestine and pigment. Probably worn by a shaman during a ceremonial dance, it is one of many items in the collection that reflect the ongoing spirituality of a people living in a bleak and difficult environment.

All images courtesy Andrew Fox/FAMSF

No comments: