Jessie Oonark (1906 - 1985)
Dark blue tapestry with light brown and blue, burgundy, orange, green and yellow figures and animals.
© Justin Wonnacott
ArtistJessie Oonark (1906 - 1985)
Nationality Inuit
Medium Stroud with felt appliqué and embroidery floss
Dimensions 6.0m x 3.8m
Acquisition Donated by the Teron family
Date 1972

Jessie Oonark’s tapestry is one of the most important by this influential Inuit artist. The artwork was created on three lengths of felt using shroud and embroidery floss to create a single, large tapestry. It includes colourful images of birds and winged creatures, motifs that appear throughout her body of work. Like many of Oonark’s artworks, the tapestry explores concepts of identity, spirituality, and traditional lifestyles. It reflects the rapidly changing ways of life in the North, caused by the introduction of southern settlers and the subsequent exchange of cultures. The motifs of the tapestry present the melding of traditional, nomadic, self-sufficient, communal societies with a hunting economy and settlements with links to the south, its money-based economy, and the Christian religion. Of note in this tapestry are the figures hunting, praying, meeting, and celebrating together.

Jessie Oonark (1906-1985) was part of the first generation of artists from the North working in printmaking and established a style that achieved wide recognition throughout Canada and the world.  Beginning as a major force in the development of the graphic arts program at Baker Lake in the 1960's and 70's, Oonark was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1975 and in 1984 awarded the Order of Canada . Her artworks are included extensively in fine art collections across Canada as well as internationally. Her legacy has inspired a new generation of artists from the North, including her daughter, Victoria Mamnguqsualuk (1930-), who continue the tradition and program. Like Oonark, Mamnguqsualuk easily weaves between the realms of graphic and textile arts, and her work is characterized by bold depictions of Inuit stories.

The tapestry was donated to the National Arts Centre by the Teron family who commissioned the artwork in 1972. William “Bill” Teron (1932-2018), was an influential property developer who helped shape post-war Ottawa and served as a member of the first Board of Trustees of the National Arts Centre.

More images