Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Monday, November 19, 2012

Karoo Ashevak of the Arctic Circle

It is easy to get lost in the notion that archives hold discoveries and document the historical past (which they do!)  It is equally important, however, to remember that archives contain treasures from contemporary society and the recent past.

One of the collections housed at the National Museum of the American Indian Archive Center are records from the Arctic Circle Gallery, an art gallery established by Bert and Ellen Witt in Los Angeles with the purpose of highlighting Inuit art. The Witt’s aimed to support Inuit communities by purchasing art through the Arctic Co-operative movement and by cultivating friendships with native artists.  In addition to gallery information this collection contains materials gathered by the Witt Family: Bert, Ellen, and Tony, on travels to the Canadian Arctic.

Photo by Tony Witt. P28589

The photo above shows Bert Witt and Karoo Ashevak in 1973 in Karoo’s hometown of Spence Bay (now known as Taloyoak).  Taloyoak is located in Canada’s Nanavut Territory and is home to Netsilik Inuits.

Karoo Fishing. 1973. Photo by Tony Witt. P28590
 While Karoo appears to have been an ace fisher (pictured) he is described in manuscript material as having a fervent curiosity and memorable energy and curiosity.  There are stories of Karoo driving his Ski-doo sitting backwards, or on his head and was known for racing his canoe. (It also appears he had an infectious smile!)  He was married to Doris Ashavak and had two adopted children Louise and Larry.  Doris and Karoo sadly perished in a fire in 1974.

Karoo was also an artist, a carver, and he worked with whale bone.  The carving pictured below is titled “Drum Dancer” and was purchased by the Witt Family from the Spence Bay Cooperative (now Taloyoak cooperative).  It is now part of the National Museum of the American Indian’s object collection.

Drum Dancer by Karoo Ashevak. 260382
It is good fortune that Karoo is able to continue on through his carvings, these pictures, and the manuscript material.  I was originally drawn to the picture of Karoo because of his wonderful grin, and, using the material available in the archives – learned about his life and his family.  Moments like this are one example of how archives can help us rediscover the not-so-distant past.

Nichole Procopenko
Archives Scanning Technician
National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center

1 comment:

  1. Here we learn the value of records, and that The Noid was Dominos appropriating Inuit culture.