Playthings and Curios: Historic Inuit Art at the Canadian Museum 
of Civilization Back Next

"In the past, Inuit girls around the age of ten, used to make their own dolls with the help of an older sister or sister-in-law.

These little dolls, who had no faces, were made mostly of skin, and had clothing that could be taken off. The doll that was loved above all the others, had more than one set of clothes.

For the dolls and their clothing, the skin of any animal could be used: newborn pups, siksiks, weasels and lemmings, as well as the thin part of birds' necks.

To an Inuit girl, these dolls were most important because by having to make them herself, she was taught all the traditional sewing skills – skinning an animal, stretching and softening the fur and cutting and sewing skins into clothing."

Anaoyok Alookee from Taloyoak (Strickler, p.12)

Dolls, originally toys for young girls, became sought-after collectors' items for visitors to the North during the historic period of Inuit art. Fully clothed, they reflected the traditional clothing in any region and thus served perfectly as "models" and souvenirs for this particular aspect of Inuit material culture. While dolls for domestic use were artless, dolls made for barter could be quite elaborate and should be included in any discussion of historic Inuit art.

Eva Strickler/Anaoyok Alookee
1988 – Inuit Dolls: Reminders of a Heritage. Toronto: Canadian Stage and Arts Publications Ltd.

Eskimo Doll - Woman with bag "Eskimo Doll – Woman with bag," 1914
East Coast of Labrador
Wood, sealskin, cotton
28 x 11 x 2 cm
CMC IV-B-348
Collected by Ernest William Hawkes
during his field trip to Labrador in 1914


Hawkes comments on the dolls which he collected: "They have an extra ethnological value in reflecting in miniature the dress of the district from which they come."* The woman with a bag seems to be almost too perfect to have been a plaything. Today we would call it a soft sculpture.

* E. W. Hawkes
1916 – The Labrador Eskimo. Ottawa: Government Printing Bureau, (Geological Survey of Canada) Memoir 91; Anthropological Series, No. 14. p. 122, ill. p. 231.

Wooden Doll, 1915
Area around Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut
7 x 1.1 x 0.8 cm
CMC IV-C-1094
Collected by Danish anthropologist Christian Leden during his expedition to the Keewatin from
1913 to 1916
  Wooden Doll Top

This doll would have served as a dummy which a little girl would dress using left-over scraps of caribou skin that her mother did not need for her own sewing. It originated from the Aivilik.