Dancing Bears: Inuit Polar Bear Sculptures New Trends in Art


Eskimo Polar Bear Sculpture

Inuit Dancing Bear Sculpture


What is the Canadian national animal?  The Polar Bear!

As I’ve previously posted, there’s a movement afoot to declare the Polar Bear as our Canadian Totem animal.  And I wholeheartedly agree with it.

In reality an endangered species, the magnificent Polar Bear continues to thrive in story, art and our hearts.

Certainly our First Nations people have always thought of the Bear (brown, black, grizzly — species depending on locality) as paramount.  Nations from the Mi’kmaq of the east coast to the Haida, with their glorious totem poles, on the Pacific coast, made the Bear a central element of their rich cultures.

Those of us of Northern European blood arrived with stories of the Bear Folk as the most noble of beasts (it was due to Roman and Middle East influences that our native Bear was replaced with the African Lion in European mythology as the “King of Beasts” and is still used by European royal families).

Most of us know that Nanook, or Nanuq, is the Inuit word for Polar bear.  They also call the great bear Pisugtooq, “the great wanderer,” and Tornarssuk, “the one who gives power.”

Also called the “Master of all Animals,” Inuit folklore tells that the white bear taught the people how to live in the cruel land, hunt seals and build snow houses.

Senator Nicole Eaton’s recent suggestion to adopt the mighty Polar Bear as our national Canadian animal has struck the right chord with a lot of true Northerners, including me.

The Bear, in reality, in Myth, in re-imagined form — like my Civilized Bears — the Bear shambles through the Canadian mindscape.

In an article titled  “Dancing Bears, Shaman Bears & Drumming Bears: Inuit Polar Bear Sculptures,” author Belinda Recio explained that “True North Gallery presents a collection of stone polar bear carvings by Canadian Inuit artists from the arctic communities of Cape Dorset, Igloolik, Arviat, Gjoa Haven, Akulivik, Kimmirut, and Iqaluit. True to the name of the show, the bears are depicted in a variety of poses and roles.

“The dancing bears seem to gracefully defy gravity as they balance on one foot or wave their limbs in the air. Some Inuit artists assert that the dancing bears represent a shamanic transformation between a bear and a human. Others claim that the dancing reflects a state of celebratory joy. The Inuit believe that after death people return as animals, and those lucky enough to return as the great white bear at the top of the food chain dance to celebrate their good fortune.

“There are several ways that Inuit artists represent a Shaman Bear, which is a shaman that has transformed into a bear. Shaman bears are sometimes depicted as having short, thick necks (in contrast to the polar bear’s long neck), which represent the last remaining sign of human identity.  Artists also depict shaman bears by carving them in shaman coats, which look like hooded parkas; or by carving them holding drums, which are associated with shamans.”

Explaining more, here is Clint Leung, owner of Free Spirit Gallery…

“Inuit Eskimo Art Sculptures of Arctic Polar Bears” 

The Inuit Eskimo people of the Arctic use their keen observations of their wildlife surroundings to help choose which subjects to portray in their artwork. Pretty well all sorts of Arctic wildlife including seals, walruses, birds and whales are represented in Inuit Eskimo art sculptures.

The most popular Arctic wildlife subject for both seasoned artists and fans of Inuit Eskimo art seems to be polar bears. For some reason, the polar bear has been chosen as the top animal to represent the Arctic north. Many Inuit Eskimo soapstone carvers strive to make polar bear sculptures but since this animal is not the easiest subject to carve, usually only experienced individuals can produce decent bears.

Novice carvers tend to tackle easier subjects such as seals and whales before moving onto polar bears. This is the main reason why in most cases, a polar bear sculpture will be priced higher than a seal or whale sculpture of similar size.

Although most Inuit Eskimo art sculptures of polar bears tend to be in walking positions with all four legs on the ground, this is not always the case. Sometimes, polar bears are depicted in sitting, lying or even swimming positions.

In some instances, finished polar bears also include some sort of prey such as fish or seals. Complex sculptures of hunting scenes can involve a polar bear plus an Inuit hunter and his husky dogs.

One of the most sought after type of Inuit Eskimo art is the dancing polar bear sculpture. These polar bears are portrayed upright with one of the hind legs raised. This makes the bear appear to be dancing as it is balancing on one leg. On occasions, polar bears have been portrayed balancing on one of the front paws with the head towards the ground and hind legs up in the air.

This would depict a diving polar bear. Needless to say, only expert carvers can successfully produce any type of sculpture that is balanced on one leg whether it is the front or hind one. Again, this becomes a factor in the overall price of the Inuit Eskimo art sculpture.

Some art critics suggest that the dancing polar bear is not true Inuit Eskimo art since the pose is not representative of real nature. Indeed, many Inuit Eskimo communities do not produce dancing polar bears while others do.

Regardless, there is consumer demand for dancing bears so there will always be Inuit Eskimo artists who will make them. The dancing polar bears can be seen as an example of the wild imagination that many Inuit Eskimo artists have.

Clint Leung is owner of Free Spirit Gallery http://www.FreeSpiritGallery.ca , an online gallery specializing in Inuit art & Native American Indian art, including carvings and prints. Also numerous information, articles and videos.

Read more of Belinda Recio’s posts on True North’s Gallery blog at http://truenorthgallery.net/blog/?author=1

==>>> To Read WHAT IS CANADA’S NATIONAL ANIMAL? THE POLAR BEAR, Click Here: http://www.civilizedbears.com/canadas-national-animal-polar-bear/


Keywords: bears, civilized bears, endangered polar bears, famous bears, grizzly bear, polar bear facts, trends in art, wilderness

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About Brian Alan Burhoe

A Graduate of the Holland College Culinary Course, Brian Alan Burhoe has cooked in Atlantic Coast restaurants and institutional kitchens for over 30 years. He is a member of the Canadian Culinary Federation. Brian's articles reflect his interests in food service, Canadian history, imaginative literature, wildlife writing, animal rights, wilderness preservation and our best friends -- our dogs. See his CIVILIZED BEARS!
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