Nfld. & Labrador

U.S. museum touring Inuit embroideries in Labrador, looking for info

A Maine museum is touring Nunatsiavut embroideries from 1940 to 1970 this week in the hopes of finding out more information about their origins.

The embroideries were crafted between 1940 and 1970 by Labrador Inuit

From left, Katie Donlan, Susan Kaplan and Genevieve LeMoine from the Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum in Maine are touring embroideries through Nunatsiavut communities over the next couple of weeks. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Scholars from a U.S. museum are in Labrador to find out more information about the origins of some rare embroideries in their collection.

"We really know very little about the actual production of the embroideries," museum director Susan Kaplan, director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum at Bowdoin College in Maine, told CBC. 

The 92 works of art were crafted by Labrador Inuit between 1940 and 1970 and bequeathed to the museum by Donald MacMillan and his wife, who were frequent visitors to Labrador's north coast communities.  

One of the 92 embroideries the museum's representatives brought along depicts the story of a polar bear hunt. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We don't know if each embroidery represents the work of an individual or perhaps groups of people. Perhaps a sewing circle worked on them," Kaplan said. 

Unraveling the history

The museum held a public session in Happy Valley Goose Bay on Friday and will be holding more in Nain, Hopedale and Makkovik over the next couple of weeks.

"We have a sense that people are really excited that we are bringing the embroideries rather than just photographs," Kaplan said.

"People would go up to the projector and try to touch the embroideries and get really close to see the stitching," said Katie Donlan, curatorial intern at the museum. 

"People need to be able to look closely. They need to be able to, in some cases, handle the embroideries, turn them over to get a sense."

Kaplan said the church on this tapestry makes it obvious the depiction is from Nain. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The meetings are also to find out what the communities would like to see happen with the artwork. 

"What we want to do is basically document the history of these embroideries from the perspective of the Inuit communities," Kaplan said. 

"So how that documentation ends up manifesting itself is going to be something we talk to them about."

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