Puvirnituq – and the first Inuit artists’ association

Puvirnituq is located on the north bank of the Povungnituk River, four kilometers from Povungnituq Bay and about 400 km north of the tree line. Puvirnituq translates as “place where it smells of rotting meat”.

In 1921, the Hundson’s Bay Company opened an outpost near the present-day settlement. The Revillon Frères trading company was also active in this area until 1935. In 1952, the Hudson’s Bay Company moved its post away from the coast to the present location of the settlement. They also closed the trading posts in Cape Smith and Kangirsuruaq, which prompted the Inuit of this area to settle in Puvirnituq.

When James Houston was in Inukjuak in 1949, he also traveled by dogsled to Puvirnituq to meet potential Inuit artists. Unfortunately, the manager of the Hudson’s Bay Company at the time was solely responsible for Puvirnituq and Cape Smith (near Ivujivik) and was not present in Puvirnituq at the time, so James Houston returned to Inukjuak disappointed. Fortunately, he tried again the following year and was rewarded for his persistence. From 1951, the Hudson’s Bay Company took over the acquisition of the artworks. In the beginning, the Inuit of this region were rather reluctant to create works of art. This changed when Peter Murdoch arrived in Puvirnituq in 1955 and encouraged the people in their artistic work.

Fig. 1: Sculptors Society Members (Photo: Richard Harrington, 1959)

In 1956, a Catholic mission was founded and two years later, Father André Steinmann supported the residents in founding an artists’ association, from which the Co-operative Association of Povungnituk emerged in 1961. This was the first Inuit cooperative in the Canadian Arctic and a model that many artists in other Arctic settlements followed. The Co-operative Association of Povungnituk is still one of the most active cooperatives today, part of La Fédération des Co-opératives du Nouveau-Québec, which was formed in 1967 from several cooperatives from Nunavik (Arctic Quebec). Richard Harrington (1911-2005), a Canadian photographer, captured this historic moment with his camera. He traveled to Puvirnituq in 1959 to photograph the artists there and their life and work.

Wellknown artists from this community are Joe Talirunili (1906-1976), Levi Qumaluk (1919-1997), Davidialuk Alasua Amittu (1910-1976) and Charlie Sivuarapik (1911-1968) amongst others.

Sources of information: “Wikipedia” and “Early Masters: Inuit Sculpture 1949-1955” (by Darlene CowardWight, The Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2006)