M21059 | Carving

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Anonyme - Anonymous
Eastern Arctic
Inuit: Labrador Inuit
1900-1930, 20th century
Ivory, copper, lead, pigment
7.9 x 2 x 8.1 cm
Gift of Arctic Institute of North America
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Carving (301)
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The Inuit were expert sculptors long before the commercial trade of soapstone sculptures began in the 1950s. They carved small animals and people as well as tools in bone or walrus ivory to give to their children and friends or to trade for necessities. This highly realistic caribou was carved by an unknown artist in about 1900.

Keys to History

The Inuit made carvings such as this model caribou long before the commercial trade in soapstone carvings began in the 1950s. They carved small animals, people and tools to give to their children or friends, or to trade with whalers and missionaries in exchange for European items such as bullets, tea and sugar.

The caribou was the single most important land animal for the Inuit. In addition to meat, caribou provided the skins for clothing, boots and tents. The sinews were put to use as sewing thread, and the antlers for various carved items.

About 15 caribou skins were required to make the necessary winter and summer clothing for one man, and many more were required to clothe his family members. On average, each individual needed five caribou skins every year, in addition to sealskins, just for repairs and replacements. As a result Inuit hunters were willing to make long journeys inland every autumn in search of the caribou herds.

  • What

    This is a model caribou, carved from ivory with copper antlers.

  • Where

    This carving was collected in Hebron, Labrador, and was probably made by an Inuit who hunted or traded in the area.

  • When

    The caribou carving was probably made in the early 20th century.

  • Who

    The artist is unknown.