MARCH 2, 1906


Oonark, born in Back River in what is now Nunavut, was of the Utkusiksalingmiut, a semi-nomadic people who fished and hunted caribou. Caribou decline in the 1950s led her people to Baker Lake where her art was soon noticed. From 1970 and 1985, over 100 of her drawings were made into prints.  She combined traditional spiritual and hunting images with symbols from her Christian beliefs and always with the presence of a female figure. Her career ended in 1979 when her hands lost feeling.  Honors include an exhibit in what is now the Canadian Museum of History (1970), presenting a wall hanging to Queen Elizabeth (1973), membership in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (1975), and being named Officer of the Order of Canada (1984). She died on either March 2 or 7, 1985, in Churchill, Manitoba.  In 1987, the Art Gallery of Ontario presented a retrospective of her work. Her largest work, Untitled (1973) hangs periodically in National Arts Centre in Ottawa. 

Note: Sources generally have Oonark as born on March 2, 1906, but are evenly-divided on whether she died March 2 or March 7, 1985.
 K. J. Butler, “Jessie Oonark,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 1/30/2008.  Retrieved 6/10/2019, [lists her as dying March 2, 1985].
“Jessie Oonark,” National Gallery of Art.  Retrieved 7/27/2019, [lists her born March 2, 1906; dying March 7, 1985].
Photo: Padraic Ryan, 11/11/2007.  Aboriginal War Veterans Monument, Ottawa, Canada.  Permissive Use.

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