Activities & Projects

An Inuit Tapestry: The Art of the Boot

Recommended by Cirriculum Services Canada

Level: Grade 9 Aboriginal Cultures/Visual Arts

Preparation: Print images if required. Print Group Assignments 1–8 — Art of the Boot, if using

Duration: 150 minutes (45 min. more if using Supplementary Activity = 195 min.)

Materials: paper, fabric, glue and other art supplies for tapestry, as desired

Goals:
  • understand the creation of Aboriginal art forms as a way of maintaining the values, traditions of particular communities
  • demonstrate understanding of the relationships among the Inuit, their environment, and art forms
  • produce an artwork designed around specific content objectives and design challenges

Description:
Begin:
Building on previous lessons in your unit, introduce the concept that Aboriginal art forms are a way of maintaining the values and traditions of Inuit communities.

Print or project the tapestry by Mina Napartuk made of appliqu├ęd sealskin on cloth. (It is also featured on the Introduction page of the web exhibition Our Boots: An Inuit Woman's Art.) Mina Napartuk was born in Kuujjuarapik in 1913. Trained in the traditional way of life, she was an expert in the making of skin and fur garments. At the age of sixty–one she turned her talent to the creation of wall hangings made of pieces of sealskin appliquéd on cloth. Her tapestries depicted vignettes of traditional Inuit life on the land.

This tapestry was commissioned by The Bata Shoe Museum in 1979. It shows the steps that are needed to make a pair of warm, dry boots for a very cold climate, from the seal hunt to the sewing and finishing of the kamiks. Explain that this tapestry shows an important event in life of an Inuit family. Tell the story using The Order of the Day resource. Refer to Worksheet 1 — The Order of the Day — Answers for the sequence on the tapestry. Also, project and read with the class The Land, Skin Clothing and Skin Footwear sections of the exhibition to give the students a sense of the arctic climate and traditional Inuit clothing.

Learn:
Discuss the tapestry as a work of art:
  • The mural is flat, lacking depth, but if you look carefully at the figures, clever use has been made of the shadings in the sealskin to give a roundness or three–dimensional quality to the people.
  • The story is presented in a somewhat linear fashion, but the sequence of events is non–linear (i.e. the tapestry's narrative does not read like a printed page from top left to bottom right). The aboriginal perspective differs from the Western one in this regard.
  • In addition, the vignettes are not 'compartmentalized' (the way, for example, a comic strip would have lines segmenting each scene).
  • There is no perspectival space, both in setting (i.e. no horizon) or in the rendering (note the foreshortening of figures that we look at head–on, like the mother scraping a skin at the top middle, or the father catching the square flipper seal on the left edge).
  • There is no hierarchical size. The most important figures and objects are usually the largest, without regard to their relative size in reality. For example, the finished boots held by the mother, the whole goal of the exercise, are very large. Indeed most of the boots and clothing are given prominence of size.

Print or project the image of another work by Mina Napartuk, Above and Below the Ice — One World. This work is made with sealskin and chamois appliqués and storytelling syllabics on a black felt background. The Inuktitut syllabics say: "Polar bear looking for a seal hole", "This woman has (dog) sniffing for a seal (food)", "Waiting over a seal hole".

Notice that in both works the animals below the ice are also depicted. Discuss the title of this work in the context of both tapestries.

Apply:
Discuss the word tapestry, technically a piece of cloth into which a picture or design has been sewn or woven that is hung on a wall for decoration. You may wish to project images of other Inuit artists' wall–hangings, such as the wool and felt works of Jessie Oonark. Art historians believe her bold, flat areas of colour have firm roots in traditional Inuit sewing techniques. Like Mina Napartuk, Jessie Oonark was a seamstress who sewed clothing for her family, and adapted her skills to fabricate wall–hangings.

Ask the students to create a 'tapestry' depicting an event in their lives. They should show several 'stages' of the event, the way that Mina Napartuk has done. They should consider perspective space, hierarchical size, and the compartmentalizing and sequencing of the narrative. They may choose the option of creating their mural from the Aboriginal perspective, or a different one. The medium could be paper, cloth, or a material of their choosing. Students should complete a storyboard and a rough sketch, and then work on a large, colour version of their tapestry.

Supplementary Activity:
For this supplementary activity Art of the Boot, the class is split into eight groups. Each group explores a section on a different Inuit group in the web–exhibition Our Boots: An Inuit Woman's Art. They will apply what they have learned to the study of one of the boots, pictured on their Group Assignments 1–8 — Art of the Boot The group will prepare and present their findings to the class, emphasizing the sewing skills and creativity of the women who made the boots that are both practical and beautiful. The students are encouraged to include the quote in their presentation. The quotes are primary sources that help students connect the material to real people.



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