Jessie Oonark, RCA, OC

Jessie Oonark

Name:
Jessie Oonark, RCA, OC (1906 – 1985)
Gender:
Female
Style:
Inuit
Region:
Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada

Jessie Oonark, “Una,” OC, artist (born 1906 in the Back River area, NWT [now Nunavut]; died 2 March 1985 in Churchill, MB). Jessie Oonark was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1975, and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1984. In 1987 the Art Gallery of Ontario presented a major retrospective of her work and her largest work, Untitled (1973) (a wool and felt piece, four by six metres) has hung intermittently ever since in the foyer of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa.

Jessie Oonark’s family were members of the Utkusiksalingmiut people, a semi-nomadic people who lived a traditional life dependent on fishing and caribou hunting. Utkusiksalingmiut means “the people of the soapstone pots.” Oonark was influenced by her father Helaquarq who is said to have been a shaman. She was named after her paternal grandfather and throughout her life she was called “Una.” Oonark had a largely traditional upbringing, learning many skills such as the processing of caribou and seal skins, and how to sew clothing and parkas out of these materials. Declines in the caribou population and the global demand for Arctic fox furs in the late 1950s culminated in her people settling in Baker Lake. Oonark “Una” herself was married at the age of 12 and had 13 children, eight of whom survived to maturity. She was widowed and settled in Baker Lake in 1958 with her surviving children. Initially she supported herself by working as a janitor, until a biologist working in Baker Lake, Dr. Andrew Macpherson, recognized her artistic talent and gave her first set of drawing materials. 

Oonark’s talent was recognized by an art advisor at Baker Lake and she was given a private studio and a small salary to allow her to work full time. Oonark was a major force in the development of the graphic arts program at Baker Lake in the 1960s and 1970s. Between 1970 and 1985 more than 100 of Oonark’s drawings were translated into prints and issued in the annual Baker Lake print editions.

Jessie Oonark is known for her drawings and wall hangings, and her decorative, hieratic, brilliantly coloured images come from a lifetime of cutting caribou skins and sewing them into clothing. She created a unique personal vision by combining traditional Inuit images featuring the shaman’s flight with hunting scenes, and symbols from her experience as a devout Christian. Her work is characterized by flat planes of colour, the constant presence of a female figure, and in her large-scale tapestries of the 1970s and 1980s, the representation of several narratives in one work. In Untitled (1973) (a wool and felt piece, four by six metres), several traditional hunting scenes unfold while a female figure clad in white, representative of the figure of a shaman or angel, rises above the other narratives of the tapestry. Oonark’s career ended in 1979 when a medical condition caused her to lose feeling in her hands.

Jessie Oonark was the first artist who is not from Cape Dorset to be featured as a Cape Dorset artist. The Canadian Museum of History (then the National Museum of Man), featured her in a two-person exhibit in 1970. Queen Elizabeth was presented with a wall hanging by Oonark in 1973, and in 1975 Oonark was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. In 1984 she was named Officer of the Order of Canada and in 1987 the Art Gallery of Ontario presented a major retrospective of her work.

Art Work

  • Add to Wishlist
    Innuit Katitput (Gathering of Innuit) by Jessie Oonark - Inuit - Baker Lake 1981

    “Innuit Katitput” (Gathering of Innuit)

    Baker Lake 1981
  • Add to Wishlist
    "Big Woman" by Jessie Oonark - Inuit - Baker Lake 1974

    Big Woman

    Baker Lake 1974
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Drying Fish’ by Jessie Oonark

    Drying Fish

    Baker Lake 1970
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Flying Woman’ by Jessie Oonark

    Flying Woman

    Baker Lake 1978
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Geese Hunting’ by Jessie Oonark

    Geese Hunting

    Baker Lake 1977
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Giver of Life' by Jessie Oonark

    Giver of Life

    Baker Lake 1984
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Hands and Feet Like Ulut' by Jessie Oonark, RCA, OC - Baker Lake 1981

    Hands and Feet Like Ulut

    Baker Lake 1981
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Hunting with Bow and Spear’ by Jessie Oonark

    Hunting with Bow and Spear

    Baker Lake 1975
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Hunting with Qeelaptartitt’ by Jessie Oonark

    Hunting with Qeelaptartitt

    Baker Lake 1975
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Kiviuq and the Grizzly’ by Jessie Oonark

    Kiviuq and the Grizzly

    Baker Lake 1981
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Kudloopudlooallook (Sea Monster)’ by Jessie Oonark

    Kudloopudlooallook (Sea Monster)

    Baker Lake 1970
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Man and His Catch’ by Jessie Oonark

    Man and His Catch

    Baker Lake 1974
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    "Man is a Killer" by Jessie Oonark - Inuit - Baker Lake 1982

    Man is a Killer

    Baker Lake 1982
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Men Hunting Animals’ by Jessie Oonark

    Men Hunting Animals

    Baker Lake 1978
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'People of the Inland’ by Jessie Oonark (Una)

    People of the Inland

    Cape Dorset 1961
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Singing Northern Lights’ by Jessie Oonark

    Singing Northern Lights

    Baker Lake 1985
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Titirauyagamiaq’ by Jessie Oonark

    Titirauyagamiaq

    Baker Lake 1977
    Add to cartAvailable
  • Add to Wishlist
    "Two Fish Looking for Something To Eat" by Jessie Oonark - Inuit - Baker Lake 1978

    Two Fish Looking for Something To Eat

    Baker Lake 1978
  • Add to Wishlist
    'Whales' by Jessie Oonark

    Whales

    Baker Lake 1972
    Add to cartAvailable