Helen Kalvak was born into a very traditional Copper Inuit family. Her parents’ only surviving child, she learned both women’s skills and hunting techniques, also gaining a deep knowledge of mythology from her mother and training in the supernatural arts from her father, a practising shaman. As well, Kalvak was one of the few members of her generation of women to receive traditional tattoos on her face and arms. After the sudden death of her husband in 1960, she moved into the village of Holman (now Ulukhaktok) and immediately began drawing for the fledgling print program there. She became the most important artist in the community, creating some 1,800 drawings, about ten percent of which were translated into prints.
Kalvak’s 1960s drawings were done in graphite, but the artist enthusiastically embraced coloured felt pens when they were introduced in the community in 1970. Her imagery remained virtually the same however: scenes of traditional camp and hunting life, mythology, shamanism and animals. Drum dancing scenes had special meaning for Kalvak because her husband, Manayok, had been a celebrated singer and dancer and the couple had performed together for decades. In this drawing, a couple – possibly Manayok and Kalvak – lead a small group in song and dance in a qaggiq (ceremonial snow house) while someone prepares to perform an acrobatic trick in the background.