Inuit Art: The “First Goose of the Spring” by Hammock

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Introduction to eskimo art

In the words of the renowned folklorist Henry Glassie, “All art is an individual’s expression of culture. Cultures differ, so art looks different” (Rafferty 78). This is essentially true in the case of the Eskimo art which has captured the world’s imagination by virtue of its singularity of thought and expression. The Eskimos, inhabiting the region extending from eastern Siberia (Russia) on the one hand to Greenland on the other, have achieved worldwide recognition with their art forms.

Presently, the Eskimos are broadly categorized into two different groups. The Inuit are those inhabiting the regions of northern Alaska, Canada and Greenland whereas the Yupik are the indigenous people of western Alaska, South Central Alaska as well as the Russian Far East.

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The artwork of these Inuit people is referred to as Inuit art. During the prehistoric and historic times, the Inuit basically led a nomadic life and their creations included figurative art as well as graphic decorations preferably in ivory.

However, during the late 1940s, the Inuit started settling in communities. The gradual transformation in their way of life also impacted their art forms which underwent rapid evolution. Thus, contemporary Inuit Art was born.

Contemporary inuit art

Much of the credit for the creation of contemporary Inuit Art goes to the Canadian James Houston. Print-making and figurative works carved in stone are associated with the contemporary period.

Houston had his degree in print-making from Japan and it was he who taught the Inuit residing in Cape Dorset the art of print-making which has been gradually incorporated into the Inuit Art.

These Inuit Art prints became an instant success and printmaking, as a business, expanded thus providing them with a new economic base. Furthermore, the intervention of the Canadian Handicrafts Guild (CHG) also helped them get the much required platform (Fiero, p. 131).

“First Goose of the Spring”

The “First Goose of the Spring” by Houmak is an exemplary piece of Inuit Art prints. It was created in 1981. It is more or less a symmetrical composition with the two wings of the bird emanating from a vertical central line. However, it would be more appropriate to consider it as an example of approximate symmetry since the two wings are not mirror images of each other. This symmetry has helped in maintaining the balance of the composition (Barnet, pp. 41-50).

The main idea of the composition is presented with a subjective approach. The depiction of the bird is not wholly realistic; it represents the artists’ personal interpretation of the subject.

“Compositions often combine two or more structural devices instead of relying on a particular one” (Fiero, p. 123). This particular composition is an apt example of the combination of structural devices. Here, the structure is that of two opposing triangles. The center where the two triangles meet forms the focal point of the composition and draws the viewers’ attention to it. This combination of structures also renders the composition interesting and dynamic (Fiero, p. 123).

An interesting feature of this composition is its use of lines. Repetition of lines creates a beautiful pattern in this image as well as conveys a sense of rhythm. The curved lines create a sense of flow within the image whereas the angular lines suggest dynamism. Moreover, curved lines are also soothing to the eyes and aesthetically more pleasing.

The composition of a picture should be such that the viewers are easily able to identify the object that comprises the center of interest. In this particular composition, the goose remains the focal point as it symbolizes the vitality, the vivaciousness associated with the approach of the spring season.

The composition of a picture also determines its movement, i.e. how the viewers’ eye moves towards the object of interest. Here, the movement is attained with the help of lines and shapes. They help in creating a rhythm in the movement.

Often, the point of emphasis is accentuated by the use of colors. This particular composition is also a case in this point. The colors used here are black, brown, grey and green. The green color at the center distinguishes it from the other parts of the image and forms the center of interest.

Along with the color, the tone of the composition also assumes greater significance. Here, the colors have been toned down in order to create a gentle effect. The use of grey helps in the formation of a particular mood.

The materials used in this composition are stone-cut and stencil with the print made on mulberry paper. This technique is indigenous to the Inuit Art prints of Cape Dorset. Since every step in this process is done manually, it renders an element of multi-originality to the composition.

As stone-cut is used as the medium here, the composition has a smooth texture. This is precisely because the stone usually used is carving-stone which is polished before incision is made. Moreover, stencil printing has rendered a lyrical quality to the composition. Additionally, different levels of color intensity have been achieved with the aid of stencils.

As in other forms of visual art, the rule of space is also applicable in this context. The white space left out on either side of the green color at the center creates an illusion of movement and also directs the viewers’ attention to the focal point.

A closer look at the image draws our attention to another interesting aspect of the composition. This is the presence of both geometric shapes like triangle, circle, and semi-circle as well as natural shapes in the same frame. This is intentionally done to create a contrast or variety.

Contrast or variety makes an art form more interesting. Here, the contrast is brought about not only by the skillful use of different shapes but also by the judicious use of color as well as line patterns.

The design of the composition is such that it creates a unified aesthetic effect. Every element in the picture frame forms an integral part of the composition and contributes to the overall unity.


Apparently, the composition is about a young goose. However, it has a deeper purpose or meaning. In this context, the Inuit Art does not serve a superficial purpose. Its primary aim is to convey a message. Here, the goose represents the first stirrings of the spring season, not its rich exuberance.

Inuit Art has had several functions in the prehistoric and historic times. However, contemporary Inuit Art has ceased to fulfill these functions. Presently, art is created in order to satisfy the needs of the outside world. It has become a source of sustenance for the Inuit. This particular composition also belongs to the contemporary period of Inuit Art and its primary function, thus, is to provide a source of sustenance to the struggling community of artists (Fiero, p. 116).

An insight into contemporary Inuit Art has helped me in my understanding of this particular composition. It is an interesting piece of art and appears to me to be representative of the life of the Inuit. In spite of the fact that the contemporary Inuit artists are creating art not for the sake of it but for economic reasons, it is deeply rooted in the past. Although the Inuit artists are conforming to the demands of the outside world in order to expand their business, their art is very much inspired by their way of life. However, the challenge lies in the fact that for an outsider, the Inuit Art may be difficult to comprehend without some information on their way of life.

The Inuit artists belong to a culture where keen observation of wildlife forms an inextricable part of their existence. Naturally, wildlife gains prominence in their art forms. Most of their compositions display elegant birds, majestic bears, seals and walruses. These animals are often their preferred themes or subject matter. This has been the case not only with the Inuit artists of the past but also with the contemporary ones. This is precisely why Houmak has created this particular piece. With the bird as the central theme, he has sprinkled a flavor of the spring season to it.

This composition is indigenous to the Cape Dorset printmaking initiated by James Houston. The process involves a lot of hard work and significant contribution not only by the artist but also the printer. The first step involves transferring the image to the stone. The next step involves incising the stone to create the required design. Ink is then applied to the finished stone which is then followed by print-making. After the print has dried, ink is applied to it with a stencil overlay. The stencil is finally removed to get the finished product.

A contextual analysis of this composition is not possible without comparing it with other works of art. Its similarity with other works of art lies in the fact that it incorporates the same elements of composition and visual design that form the basis of other works of art.

On the other hand, it is different in various aspects. The primary difference lies in its selection of the subject matter which is a representation of an altogether different culture. Secondly, the choice of the medium also distinguishes it from other works of art. Not only that, its function as a contemporary Inuit Art also differentiates from the other works of art.


A comparative analysis of the above composition however, reinforces the fact that whatever be the similarities or differences between different works of art, the basic function of any form of art remains the same- to provide aesthetic pleasure. Its functions may vary according to the demands of the situation but its inherent objective is “the meaningful objectification of whatever is metaphysically important to man.”(Torres and Kamhi 165) To conclude, art appeals to the human senses and satisfies an important psychological need of man.

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Inuit Art: The “First Goose of the Spring” by Hammock. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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