The Art and Technique of Inuit Clothing
Betty Kobayashi Issenman, McCord Museum
The fur and skin clothing of the Inuit is a key factor in ensuring their survival in the northernmost reaches of the globe. By "survival" we mean a cultural and spiritual, as well as physical, continuance with the ancestors. Its functional excellence and aesthetic properties make Inuit clothing a remarkable legacy to the human family. In the words of Inuit Elder, Mike Angutituak of Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet, Nunavut), "Our ancestors survived on the land and the sea, depending only on animals. It was not always easy for them, but they survived through many dangerous journeys and bitterly cold winters. They not only survived for themselves, they also survived for the future."
The Inuit world is intercontinental. The over 155,000 persons who call themselves "Inuit" their word for people live in four circumpolar countries: Russia (Chukotka), USA (Alaska), Canada and Kalaallit Nunaat, the ancient and modern name for Greenland. The rich, complex and sophisticated culture of the Inuit has endured in Arctic Canada for over four thousand years. It has survived in one of the world's harshest climates while remaining in ecological and spiritual harmony with the environment.
Inuit men and women shoulder together the responsibilities for food, clothing, shelter, child-rearing and emotional sustenance. They carry forward the traditions of clothing production and sewing techniques handed down from generation to generation over thousands of years. By making and wearing skin clothing, the Inuit celebrate their accomplishments, show pride in being a part of a unique, vibrant culture and affirm their lasting connection to the natural and spiritual worlds of their ancestors.
The McCord Museum collection of objects and photographs illustrating the Inuit art of sewing was gathered and donated by anthropologists, explorers, collectors, photographers and other institutions from the 19th century to the present. As we examine this luxurious clothing and the finely wrought tools of production, we open a door to an appreciation of Inuit culture as a whole.