Kinngait [Cape Dorset], Inuktitut for “mountains” is located on the south west coast of Baffin Island, which is located just west of Greenland.
Cape Dorset was the first Canadian arctic community to produce drawings and prints. It developed into a major northern art community due to James and Alma Houston’s presence from 1951 to 1962 and Terry Ryan’s nurturing, first as an arts advisor in 1960 and then as manager of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative from 1962 – 2001. The linearity of Cape Dorset graphic arts is believed to be an influence on the sculpture from this area.
Over three generations of artists have produced sculpture from Cape Dorset. Although small-scale works, following the tradition of highly detailed ivory sculpture from the Historic Period, are in evidence, Kinngait artists are typically noted for their large-scale stone sculpture.
The first generation of Cape Dorset artists established a tradition of stylized naturalism, with caribou, dancing bears and fragile magical birds as favorite themes. The animals are often created in anthropomorphic poses that are heroic, humorous or dramatic. Transformation imagery is also popular, where the supernatural and spirituality are represented in the melding of human and animal form.
Variety of style and creativity was encouraged and supported by the Houstons and Terry Ryan, as well as the West Baffin Island Eskimo Co-operative, which pays artists based on the originality, quality and complexity of their sculpture.
As of 2005 over a dozen artists from Cape Dorset have been made members of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts: Abraham Etungat, Pitseolak Ashoona, Pauta Saila, Kenojuak Ashevak, Osuitok Ipeelee, Kananginak Pootoogook, Mayureak Ashoona, Kiawak Ashoona, Paulaussie Pootoogook, Toonoo Sharky, Pitaloosie Saila, Aqjangajuk Shaa and Oviloo Tunnillie.
Cape Dorset sculpture is renowned for its images of arctic wildlife and the Inuit culture, depicted in a stylized and somewhat abstract form, and for its emphasis on spatial interaction, expressive qualities, and overall form.