When you see the petite Inuit woman dressed in traditional costume while selling her artwork at Coast events, you may have wondered about her story. Annie Aculiak is unique, one of the last Inuit to be born in an igloo near Port Harrison (Inukjuak) on the eastern side of Hudson Bay in northern Quebec.
This year she and husband, Pierre Jacques, have embarked on another venture – they will open the first Inuit run art gallery in Canada. The grand opening is on May 5 at their new venue on Cowrie Street in Sechelt.
Her Inuit theme is what attracts the public to her art: images of polar bears, seals, sled dogs – original, framed renderings in felt or reproduced into prints and art cards. She sews some of the images into larger wall hangings; she also carves, does basket weaving and beaded jewelry, some of which will be on display.
Sometimes the images show happier days for Annie as she depicts herself as a youngster with her dad, the carver Josephie Aculiak, before she was taken from her parents and sent to residential school where she suffered physical and mental abuse. Along with the emotional scars and health problems, she still holds the government-imposed ID tag number that designated her as an Eskimo. Time spent in Vancouver in later years was also not kind to her until she eventually met and married Pierre Jacques, her husband and manager.
She has lived on the Sunshine Coast for the past 20 years and life is better now. Her art has been sent around the world and it can be seen in such prestigious places as Buckingham Palace and Rideau Hall. In 2000 her work was presented to Capt. Ken Burton of the RCMP to take aboard the vessel St. Roch II on her voyage through the Northwest Passage to a destination with the first premier of Nunavut, Paul Okalik.
And when thousands marched for reconciliation in Vancouver last September, Aculiak was honoured by Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde when he placed her up front in full Inuit ceremonial dress along with First Nations marchers.
Each weekend Annie and Pierre head for North Vancouver to sell at the Shipyard market on Friday evenings, Ambleside and Lonsdale Quay markets on the weekend. This summer they will be especially busy, keeping to their marketplace schedule plus running the gallery.
The new gallery is tucked away at 5700 Cowrie Street in Sechelt and will house not only Annie’s work – her feltwork, prints and beaded jewelry – but the work of her soapstone carving family as well. Jacques is particularly proud that the gallery will hold the exclusive sale rights for the work of Annie’s brother, Johnny Aculiak, whose soapstone carvings are prized. A former director of the Inuit Art Foundation, Johnny passed away in 2008 but his work lives on – depicting a way of life in the north in fine detail. Other family members, including Davidee, Lily, Daniel, Tommy and Timothy Aculiak will also have work for show and sale.
All are invited to the Annie Aculiak Studio and Inuit Gallery from 10-3 on Saturday, May 5 for the grand opening. They hope to welcome both friends and dignitaries. See: www.annieaculiak.com for more about her artwork.