Jessie Oonark was a widow in her fifties when she and her youngest children were rescued from starvation and evacuated to Baker Lake in 1958. Her six surviving adult children and their families were relocated there as well. Oonark began making drawings almost immediately upon her arrival; she had seen schoolchildren drawing, and thinking she could make better ones, asked a teacher for papers and pencils, thus becoming the first Inuk graphic artist in Baker Lake. Oonark would become the most important artist in the community, renowned for her drawings, prints and textile hangings. All eight of her children became respected artists as well.
Although Oonark was not an especially talented seamstress, her interest in clothing patterns and her innate sense of design led her to create some of the most iconic images of womanhood in all of Inuit art. Chosen for the cover of the 1970 inaugural Baker Lake print catalogue, Woman reveals Oonark’s impressive artistic vision. Inspired by traditional parka designs, yet not slavishly following them, Oonark’s drawings and textiles – at times strikingly simple and at other times quite complex – exhibit this artist’s love of both decorative and symbolic pattern, her bold use of both line and colour, and her flair for dramatic composition.
© Public Trustee of Nunavut, Estate of Jessie Oonark