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

Miniature replicas of tools and equipment used by Inuit in daily life have their cultural origin in grave goods. "Among the various tribes it was also customary to deposit with the dead small models of useful objects such as lamps, harpoons, knives, etc. whose 'spirits' could then be utilized in the afterworld by the deceased"*
(Jenness, p.169).

Leden also refers to this custom: "It is the Eskimo custom to bury the dead with all their belongings. What is not deposited in the grave is left leaning against the burial mound. It is a grievous sin to appropriate any of such articles or even to make use of them
(Leden, p.198).

Eventually, similar replicas were made for barter with visitors to the North. These little men in kayaks, scenes of dogsleds, and miniature umiaks, were carved in anticipation of the next visiting ship, or the arrival of an RCMP patrol, a doctor or a missionary. It appears that some models were specifically commissioned by an ethnographer for demonstration and research. If it was impossible to ship an authentic large boat home, an option would be an exact replica which demonstrated the details of construction. Similarly, ethnographers could commission objects no longer in daily use for study purposes.

Jenness, Diamond
1946 – The material Culture of the Copper Eskimo. Report of the Canadian Arctic Expedition 1913–1918, vol. XVI.

Leden, Christian
1990 – Across the Keewatin Icefields. Winnipeg: Watson and Wyer Publishing Ltd.

Model Umiak with Figures and Accessories - D2007-05008
Model Umiak with Figures and Accessories, 1908–1914
Wood, sealskin, wire, metal, cotton, string, duffel
Boat: 14 x 58 x 27 cm
CMC IV-B-1134, D2007-05008
Collected by Mrs. Marjorie Wakefield, wife of Dr. A. W. Wakefield, while stationed at Grenfell missions in Labrador


The umiak (women's boat) is accompanied by two figures, together with wooden replicas of a walrus, a seal and a rifle. It is easy to imagine that the Wakefields commissioned this artifact so they could bring it home to England as a souvenir of their years in Labrador.

Model of Stove, n. d.
Baffin Island ?, Nunavut
7.5 x 6 cm
CMC IV-X-623
Unknown provenance
  Model of Stove Top

The custom of making models of objects in daily use eventually extended to items of Euro-Canadian origin. This paraffin stove is reminiscent in style to the objects in Kidston's and Jean Cameron's collections. It is safe to assume that it originates from Baffin Island, possibly Pond Inlet or Lake Harbour.

Exhibition History:
Out There is Somewhere: The Arctic in Pictures. Organized by the Art Gallery of Windsor. Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, March 23 – May 26, 2002; Edmonton Art Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta, September 6 – November 2, 2002.

Blodgett, Jean
1988 – "The Historic Period in Canadian Eskimo Art." Inuit Art: An Anthology. Winnipeg: Watson & Dyer, ill. p. 21.