Today the latest edition of Cape Dorset prints will be released to an eager public, ranging from private collectors to museums throughout North America, Europe and Japan.
What started out as a way for indigenous people to cope with a depressed economy has grown into a exclusive event in the art world. "Many clients wait in line for hours before the opening in order to ensure they get the prints they covet," says Mark London, owner of the
An Economic LiftCape Dorset, now a village of about 1,300 people, arose around the Hudson's Bay Company trading post in the early 1900s. When the Arctic fur trade failed after World War II, many of the Inuit who had lived inland moved closer to this seaside settlement.
A Buyer's GuideMost art experts will tell novice collectors to buy what they like, and Inuit art specialists are no different. "Collectors should look for work that speaks to them," says Shultz. Still, collectors looking for investment potential often ask if they should buy a famous name or a new up-and-comer. "Often the known names -- Kenojuak Ashevak and Kananginak Pootoogook -- are safer investments," Shultz says. However, a strong image from a lesser-known will probably appreciate more than a weak print from a big-name artist, he continues. "My favorite line is that there was a time when Picasso was an unknown artist," says Mark London, noting that first-edition prints are usually priced to reflect an artist's fame. The 31 Cape Dorset prints issued today range in price from $350 to $1,300. "Even prints by senior artists ... are still reasonably priced," he notes. Collectors also can choose among several print techniques ranging from modern lithography and etching to the traditional stonecuts. Because there are no trees in Cape Dorset, the Inuit use blocks of stone in the same way traditional printmakers utilize blocks of wood. "Some people like the classic stonecut, but not all images are suited for the stonecut technique," says the National Gallery's Routledge, adding that lithography can offer more nuance in design and a wider range of colors. The West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative continues to restrict the supply of prints. "Fifty is an acceptable size for an original print edition, both for the printmaker who has to pull each one and the collector who knows there are only 50 of a particular image," says Leslie Boyd Ryan. Each print is inked and produced by hand. "There's no mechanization," she says. Except for occasional special issues, Cape Dorset prints are released once yearly, in the fall.
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