The National Arts Centre celebrates the return of the magnificient Oonark Tapestry

OTTAWA – The National Arts Centre today unveiled the magnificent tapestry by renowned Inuit artist Jessie Oonark, just in time for the upcoming Northern Scene festival.

The NAC first unveiled Ms. Oonark’s 373 cm by 601 cm tapestry in May 1973. The unnamed work was installed above the grand staircase in the NAC foyer, where it was displayed proudly until 1994 when it was removed and sent to Winnipeg for a retrospective of Ms. Oonark’s work (upon its return to Ottawa, the tapestry was stored in the NAC’s archives – until now). 

 The tapestry was commissioned by property developers and philanthropists Bill and Jean Teron. At the time of the unveiling, Mr. Teron was a member of the NAC Board of Trustees and had been a key member of the National Capital Arts Alliance, which spearheaded the NAC’s creation in the sixties. 

The bright-coloured features symbolic figures and legends of the North set in rows and groupings on a striking, turquoise background. Jessie Oonark (1906-1985) once described her prints and drawings as “my dreams”. 

Jessie Oonark was present for the 1973 unveiling of the tapestry which coincided with a national conference on Northern art. It is said that when she saw her tapestry on the wall at the NAC, it was the first time she had seen it in its entirety. She had made it at her home in Baker Lake, and her house was so small that she could see tapestry, by some considered to be her greatest work, only in pieces.

View a time-lapse video of the installation of the Oonark Tapestry


The Oonark Tapestry has returned to the NAC just in time for Northern Scene, an eclectic, multi-disciplinary arts festival featuring the work of 250 of the best established and emerging artists from Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, as well as Nunatsiavut and Nunavik, Northern Scene will offer Ottawa/Gatineau audiences a contemporary cultural snapshot of the North. Northern music, theatre, dance, visual and media arts, film, literature, storytelling, food and fashion events will invade the capital at 22 venues across the city from April 25 to May 4, 2013.  For more information, please visit


Jessie Oonark was born in the area of northern Canada known as the Barren Lands, north and west of the present-day village of Baker Lake, Northwest Territories, where she settled in the late 1950s. Her childhood and young adulthood were spent in the traditional pursuits of an Inuit woman: dressing caribou and sealskins, and making parkas and other items of traditional clothing. Oonark began her career as a graphic artist in 1959, when a Canadian biologist working in Baker Lake gave her art supplies. Her talent was immediately recognized, and she was soon making drawings for sale.  A selection of Oonark’s drawings were sent from Baker Lake to Cape Dorset, the only Inuit settlement issuing prints at the time…. She was the only outsider ever included in the Cape Dorset print program.

Oonark was a major force in the development of the graphic arts program at Baker Lake in the 1960s and 1970s. Her singular talent was rewarded by an art advisor at Baker Lake who gave Oonark her own studio and a small salary to allow her the freedom of full-time artistic creativity. (She had previously been working as a janitor at the local church.) Between 1970 and 1985 more than 100 of Oonark’s drawings were translated into prints and issued in the annual Baker Lake print editions.

A strong, bold graphic sense informs all of Oonark’s work. Traditional dress, women’s facial tatoos, and shamanistic themes are common in her art, yet they usually appear as isolated, fragmentary forms, shaped into a graphically bold image rather than a comprehensible narrative. Oonark is also well known as a textile artist, whose wool and felt wall-hangings reveal her as a master of color and form.”

Source: Janet Catherine Berlo in “North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary”, 1995.


For more information, please contact:

Carl Martin
Communications Advisor
National Arts Centre
613 947 7000, ext. 560

Rosemary Thompson
Director of Communications
National Arts Centre
613 947 7000, ext. 260


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