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Bowdoin College Arctic Museum takes Inuit embroideries back home to Labrador


Exhibitions being held in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Makkovik, Hopedale and Nain

HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. —

Set against mountainous landscapes, these embroidered scenes tell the story of a polar bear hunt. Blue footprints trace the path of two hunters as they successfully track their prey and transport it back to town. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan. - PHOTO BY DANA WILLIAMS
Set against mountainous landscapes, these embroidered scenes tell the story of a polar bear hunt. Blue footprints trace the path of two hunters as they successfully track their prey and transport it back to town. Gift of Donald and Miriam MacMillan. - PHOTO BY DANA WILLIAMS

Bowdoin College has perhaps the largest collection of Inuit embroideries from Labrador.

More than 90 of them reside in the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum, courtesy of explorer and researcher Donald MacMillan (Bowdoin class of 1898) and his wife Miriam, who purchased or received them as gifts.
In early April, a selection of these embroideries will be flown back to Labrador with the arctic museum’s director, curator and curatorial intern in an effort to document the history of this art form from the Inuit perspective.

Susan Kaplan, the museum’s director, describes the embroideries as “almost like mini visual ethnographies,” each one telling a story.

There are napkins, tablecloths, tea towels, table runners, and an apron, all with finely stitched colourful scenes on them. One tablecloth depicts a polar bear hunt from beginning to end. Another shows several outside activities common with the changing seasons. Tiny figures can be seen chasing butterflies, picking berries, and boiling a kettle.

“We had some very good photographic slides of the embroideries when we came last year,” Kaplan says. “But this proved frustrating for some seamstresses, who would walk up to the screen to look more closely and would then want to touch it and to study the back of the cloth. ‘We have to be able to hold it and look at the stitching in the back,’ they told us.”

"One thing we dream of is that some people will perhaps recognize the work of individual seamstresses so we can identify the creators of some of these pieces,” says curator Genevieve LeMoine.

The trip to Labrador is part of a larger project called Traditions and Transitions, a partnership between the Nunatsiavut government and the Memorial University of Newfoundland, with the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum as a collaborator. The team’s travel is also partly funded by a grant from The Kane Lodge Foundation, Inc.

The pieces will be on exhibit for the public to help identify them. The dates for the exhibitions are:

Happy Valley-Goose Bay: Friday, April 5, 1:30 p.m., Aboriginal Resource Center, College of the North Atlantic

Makkovik: Monday, April 8, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., Arena multipurpose room

Hopedale: Thursday, April 11, 3 and 6 p.m., Moravian Church

Nain: Monday, April 15, 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. at the NG admin building boardroom

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