Although Pauta Saila is better known for his sculptures than his graphic art, he was an early participant in the Cape Dorset printmaking experiments, working as a graphic artist shortly after his arrival in the community in 1960. Saila worked directly on the engraving plate, as did his colleagues, but he also frequently used his axe as an engraving tool. This technique accounts for the distinctive textured markings on his prints. Saila submitted drawings to use in Cape Dorset’s West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative’s printmaking program until 1981, after which he focused exclusively on the sculptures that would bring him worldwide fame.
Saila’s lifelong affinity for polar bears is already evident in this early print, and the work foreshadows the development of his iconic bear sculptures, especially his “dancing bears,” which would become some of the most highly coveted and most frequently imitated works of Inuit art. Saila was an avid hunter, and his depictions of bears are based on his observations of their behaviour. Although in this print only the upper half of the polar bear is depicted, its outstretched arms are indicative of the movement and dynamism that would come to inform Saila’s sculptural work. The dancing bear motif, suggested in this partial figure, is arguably the most influential subject matter introduced to Inuit sculpture.