College chapel window is a first in Inuit art world

Published December 1, 2004

Inuk artist Kenojuak Ashevak, who typically works in prints, drawings and sculpture, is flanked by Bishop Andrew Atagotaaluk of the Arctic and chaplain Rev. Robert Lennox.

Oakville, Ont.

he first stained glass window ever designed by an Inuit artist was dedicated recently during a special 75th anniversary service at the John Bell Chapel at Appleby College.

Designed by Inuk artist Kenojuak Ashevak, 78, of Cape Dorset, and created by Toronto stained glass artist Sue Obata, the window portrays a large, snowy owl and an arctic char — both symbols of Canada ‘s north. Featuring brilliant jewel-tones and a simple design, the work of art creates a striking contrast to the other 13 more intricately-styled windows in the chapel of the school, located a half hour west of Toronto in the diocese of Niagara.

Titled, Iggalaaq (Where the Light Comes Through), the window measures 2.1 metres wide by 3.9 metres tall.

During two special commemorative services held Nov. 9 before college staff, students and guests, Andrew Atagotaaluk, diocesan bishop of the Arctic, said a prayer of blessing and dedication over the window. He described it as, “a rare and special window that will tell its own message, whether from a Christian perspective or from a cultural perspective.”

Bishop Atagotaaluk described the Arctic as, “the largest diocese in the world,” at over four-and-a-half million square kilometres, and said that for those who live in such a vast wilderness, the arctic char and the snowy owl — which are abundant — represent, “sustenance of life.” He said that the fish is an ancient symbol representing Christ, and that for Christians, a white dove represents the Holy Spirit. “For Christians in the far north, the snowy owl is just as much a symbol of God’s presence,” he said.

Bishop Atagotaaluk told Anglican Journal it was “a very special privilege” to be asked to dedicate the window, as it represents many “cultural and historical aspects” of Inuit life.

Speaking through an interpreter after the service, Ms. Ashevak — who works in prints, drawings and sculpture — said she chose to put an arctic char in her design because one of her favourite Bible stories is of Christ feeding the multitude with a few loaves and fish. The window represents the largest work of art she has ever created.

With the help of Sattler Stained Glass Studio in Nova Scotia, Ms. Obata translated Ms. Ashevak’s design and executed the work in glass. Although she has worked in the medium for more than 25 years, she said she’s never worked on such a design.

Appleby chaplain Rev. Robert Lennox described the chapel as “the spiritual centre of the school,” and said it plays an important part in the students’ lives, citing the fact that many graduates return for weddings and their children’s baptisms.

It was his vision to create the uniquely Canadian window, and he assembled the project team.

“It’s beyond my wildest dreams,” said Mr. Lennox, an Anglican priest. “I knew Kenojuak was great, and I’ve loved her work for years. I’ve always thought she was one of [ Canada ‘s] greatest living artists. But this creation is, I think, her best work.”

“This will enchant whoever sees it,” said Glen Erikson of Mississauga, Ont., whose family donated the window to the school.

Patricia Paddey is a writer living in Mississauga, Ont.


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