Members of Arnaqarvik ᐊᕐᓇᖃᕐᕕᒃ in the early 1970s (L to R: Alice Aleekee, Judy McGrath, Mary Eetoolook, Arnaluaq Totalik, Eva Tirtaq and Arnaoyok Alookee holding toddler Denise). Photo: Photography Darkroom Project.

Collections Feature: Arctic Natural Dye Parka


June is Indigenous History Month! Throughout the month, we’re sharing highlights from Glenbow’s Indigenous collections and much more.

Today, we’re sharing a beautiful parka made by Joni Ashevak, an artist who participated in a grassroots art and craft collective called Arnaqarvik ᐊᕐᓇᖃᕐᕕᒃ (“a place of women”) in what is now called Taloyoak or Talurjuaq, Nunavut (formerly Spence Bay, Northwest Territories), most likely in 1974. It was donated to Glenbow in 2023.

Arnaqarvik ᐊᕐᓇᖃᕐᕕᒃ began in 1972 and was a highly experimental venue for local women to creatively hone their skills and tell their stories through fabric and artistic forms of production. Arctic natural dyes became a hallmark of their identity as a collective.

Arnaqarvik ᐊᕐᓇᖃᕐᕕᒃ gave the artists a way to retain some of their land-based way of life while facing pressure to settle in communities and participate in a cash economy. The artists and their children collected lichen and plants during the summer, with the bulk dyeing done during the long, dark winter months. Plants were boiled in hot water, with or without a mordant (a dye fixing agent), to produce brilliant colours. Popcorn lichen produced a brilliant purple—a favourite of the ladies—and other colours were produced from Arctic grasses, morels and Arctic poppy.

Joni Ashevak, natural dye parka, ca. 1974, Collection of Glenbow.
Joni Ashevak, natural dye parka, ca. 1974, Collection of Glenbow.

Parkas like this one were made from roughly 1973 to 1985. They were highly sought-after and custom-made for notable people including Adrienne Clarkson and King Charles.
This parka is embroidered with wool dyed with Arctic lichen and plants. It is made of duffle cloth that was custom-made for the collective and named “Seal Grey.” Only three rolls of this duffle were ordered for the collective, making this a very special and rare coat.

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