The Inuit skin preparation workshop

Thomas G. Stone

Abstract

This past August the Canadian Conservation Institute of the Department of Communications organized a five day workshop which examined Inuit techniques of preparing caribou and seal skin. The course was held at the Northern Studies Centre in Churchill, Manitoba, the “Polar Bear Capital of the World” and was designed for museum conservators who work with Inuit skin clothing and artifacts. Participants in the workshop came from museums in Canada, the U.S.A. and Europe.

Instructors at the course were Dr. Jill Oakes and Dr. Rick Riewe of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg and Elizabeth Nibgoarsi and Leah Okatsiak, two Inuit seamstresses from Arviat (Eskimo Point) , Northwest Territories.

Participants had the opportunity to process caribou skin as well as skin from both ringed and bearded seals. Lectures and movies dealt with regional variations of skin processing from Greenland to Alaska, as well as Inuit material culture in general and its response to external influences. A variety of presentations were also presented relating to the conservation of Inuit skin and leather artifacts.

This paper will discuss specific aspects of Inuit skin preparation techniques which were dealt with at the workshop, including regional differences, native repairs and wear patterns and how the processing techniques themselves lead to the kind of deterioration that is often seen on Inuit skin clothing.