The mid-1940s marked the beginning of a period of major transition for Canada's Inuit. In 1948, a young Toronto artist, James Houston, visited Inukjuak, in Arctic Quebec, and the Inuit living in nearby camps. He began collecting carvings his new friends offered him in exchange for the drawings he made for them.
Enchanted by the freshness and directness of the Inuit carvings, Houston brought them to the attention of the Canadian Guild of Crafts in Montreal. The sale of Inuit carvings organized by the Guild in November 1949 is generally considered the starting point for contemporary Inuit art.
The Guild joined forces with Houston and the Hudson's Bay Company's northern trading posts to encourage these highly skilled Inuit hunters and trappers to transfer some of their innate cultural talents into carving and printmaking.
Observation of minute detail, amazing visual memory, manual dexterity and infinite patience all proved to be powerful assets when channelled into fashioning sculptures out of local stone or drawing legends from the rich oral history of the Inuit.
Unaware of the mystique surrounding art in western culture, the Inuit hunters and their families approached sculpture and printmaking with the same dedication and intensity they had applied to hunting and survival in one of the world's most hostile environments. For many Inuit, art became a matter of economic and emotional survival in a time of transition and painful adaptation to a new way of life.