It’s -17 C with the windchill, but inside a small red-and-white building along Iqaluit’s beach, things are heating up.
The former Hudson’s Bay building is home to the city’s only museum, the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, and for the next couple of months, the 2014 Cape Dorset print collection and sale.
The sale has a few rules: first, leave your boots at the door. Next, if you’re planning to buy a print, grab a ticket, write your name on it, and drop it in the basket. Then, pick up a booklet; inside, lists the print’s name and artist.
The sale's final rule was hammered home for couple Alia Bigio and Greg Brown.
This is their first print sale, and they were surprised at how different a print can look in person compared to what's shown online.
“It looked nice [online], but you couldn’t see the highlights and the details,” Bigio said, referring to 'Marruliak (Twins)'.
Nearly 200 people cram into the small exhibit room to get a close-up look for themselves, making it feel more like a crowded house party than an art gallery.
“You can be excited for your friends because your friends are all here," Bigio said.
“But it is a little awkward when the people right next to you are also your friends,” adds Brown. “And they’re like, 'Oh, they got the one we wanted.'”
This is the eighth print sale for Craig and Cathy Welsh. They have a back-up plan if their top choices go, which is very possible, because getting the print you want completely depends on when your name is drawn from the basket.
The Welshes know how it feels to not get first pick. One year, Cathy’s name was drawn last.
'Waiting is kind of intense'
The crowd starts to settle when the museum’s curator, Brian Lunger, and one of the artists, Tim Pitsiulak, step up on a small stage in one corner of the room.
Before the sale begins, Lunger points out one artist’s work that is missing from this year’s collection: Kenojuak Ashevak. It’s the first time her prints are not on display.
Another artist, Itee Pootoogook, who has two prints on the wall, passed away this year. Lunger leads everyone in a moment of silence.
Then Lunger and Pitsiulak start pulling names from the basket and reading them aloud. That's when things get interesting.
Ningeokuluk Teevee’s 'Raven with Ulu' is the top choice for most and is gone after the first two names are called. The room groans in disappointment.
Alia Bigio's name is called early in the draw and she chooses a copy of 'Diving Fish'.
'We like something that speaks to us. It’s not necessarily the artist, it’s not necessarily the size.' - Cathy Welsh
Almost immediately after, Bigio's husband Greg Brown is called.
“The pressure of trying to pick something else while everyone’s waiting is kind of intense,” Brown said.
“It's also good to reevaluate and pick something maybe you wouldn’t pick before."
Over the next half an hour, as top choices are picked, more and more people say "pass" when its their turn to choose a print. The crowd starts to thin.
The Welshes didn't get their top two picks, but say they're happy with their third and fourth choices, 'Sated Bear' by Pitsiulak and 'Lustrous Char' by Saila.
“We like something that speaks to us,” Cathy Welsh said. “It’s not necessarily the artist, it’s not necessarily the size. We’re not buying the investment, we’re buying the art. We’re going to hang it and look at it for years.”