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'They had stories in them': Mathew Nuqingaq explains what drew him to jewelry making

From the outside, Aayuraa Studio looks like a small house, but once you enter it's so much more. The studio is owned by artist Mathew Nuqingaq, who's a jewelry maker, sculptor, drummer, and the president of the Inuit Art Foundation.
Mathew Nuqingaq sitting at his bench in his studio in Iqaluit, Nunavut. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC )

From the outside, Aayuraa Studio looks like a small house, but once you enter it's so much more. The studio is owned by artist Mathew Nuqingaq, who's a jewelry maker, sculptor, drummer, and the president of the Inuit Art Foundation.

The studio name is the Inuktitut word for snow goggles, an Inuit invention that Nuqingaq has always been fond of. He now makes them out of a range of different materials, including silver.

"Snow goggles have always been one of my favourite things ever since I was a kid … they were one of the first inventions [up here], just like the kayak and the igloo," said Nuqingaq.

Snow goggles were created to help protect your eyes from the harsh reflection that comes off the snow.

"If you're in the snow all day or for multiple days, your eyes are going to get burned from the snow [reflection] and it hurts … the slits just [let] you see the horizon and not the snow," said Nuqingaq.

In 2017, a pair of Nunqingaq's snow goggles were gifted to Prince Charles — an event that he remembered fondly.

Members of the media are reflected in some snow glasses as Prince Charles, Prince of Wales attends a community feast event at Sylvia Grinnel Territorial Park during a 3 day official visit to Canada on June 29, 2017 in Iqaluit, Canada. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

"It was pretty cool, I asked Prince Charles to try on the snow goggles and then [I heard] so much clicking behind me, all the cameras, so many paparazzi," said Nuqingaq.

"I had my little camera … and I was right there photographing him from across — I had some great photos of him."

Nuqingaq's foray into silversmithing started with jewelry, and he recalled the time he fell in love with the art form.

The earrings lining the top of the cabinet are designed after qulliq, Inuit oil lamps used to keep your house warm. (Kyle Muzyka/CBC)

"Twenty years ago I went to a craft fair … and I saw some silver work for the first time, and I fell in love with them," said Nuqingaq.

"It was something totally different than I had seen in Sears, or Northmart, or one of those stores that carry jewelry … they had stories in them."

Nuqingaq started taking evening jewelry making classes at the Nunavut Arctic College, and originally thought he could work on his art in the evenings, while continuing to work as a kindergarten teacher.

"Of course that didn't happen, by the time the evening comes you're too tired," said Nuqingaq, who eventually walked away from teaching to make jewelry full time.

"And I've had the best job for the past 20 years, the best job I've ever had."

The logo with the updated wording was unveiled when the handover to the Inuit Art Foundation was announced. (Inuit Art Foundation)

On top of creating beautiful jewelry, Nuqingaq is the president of the Inuit Art Foundation (IAF), which helps promote Inuit artists in Nunavut and beyond. The IAF is at the forefront of preventing fraudulent Inuit art from being sold.

In 2017, the IAF was given control of the igloo trademark — for the first time it is being controlled by Inuit.

The trademark was originally created in 1958 by the federal government, and controlled by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs.

"[Inuit artists] sometimes always feel like the south is so far, and we're in a different part of the world," said Nuqingaq.

"It's one of those things, if we don't control it ... it's not going to work the way we want it to work."

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