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Featured Artifact: Seal Skin Artwork

Artifact Profile: Seal Skin Artwork


Artist: Helen Kalvak Elihakvik

Provenance: Holomon Island (Ulukahaktok), NW Territories

Kalvak was born in 1901 on Victoria Island located in the Northwest portion of the Northwest Territories. In her youth she lived a migratory lifestyle with her family; Migrating between camps along the coast in the winter and camps in the interior in the summer. Her father was a well-respected angakug (Shaman) and much of his teachings informed her artworks in her later years. After moving to Holoman Island (Ulukahaktok) she moved into a Co-op which provided her the opportunity to draw. Between 1962 and 1978 she created over 1800 drawings and stencils. The theme in her artworks focus on the transformation between angakug and his/her own animal spirit helpers or guides through illustrations of how people used to dress and live.

The museum received a donation of a sealskin piece in 2008. This piece was made by Kalvak early in her career. This is known because sealskin was experimented on as a medium in 1962 until Northern Affairs, now named Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, sent an ambassador to teach stone cut techniques. Since stone is more abundant in Ulukahaktok, between 1965 and 1976, stone cut became the exclusive technique.

Sources: Inuit Art Foundation Website. This website includes quotes about her from the people that knew her as well as information on select exhibitions and artwork.

Additional Paper Sources and Biographic Information: Canadian Womans Artist History Initiative. 2007.  Kalvak, Helen.



While in the Easter Arctic NWT in 1978/9, I purchased an extremely well made inlay seal skin. It is very similar to the one pictured in your museum by Helen KALVAK. I will forward pictures that I have of this beautiful seal skin, and this may help to identify if Kelen KALVAK may have made it.
Looking for any information that may help.
Thanking you in advance John G OAKLEY Kelowna BC
778 484 6066

Robert C Merchant

I have a Holman Island Eskimo Co-Op 3 panel seal skin 31′ x 41″ purchased directly from them in 1973. May be by Helen Kalvak. Trying to confirm the value for insurance purposes. Identical to the 15 panel version done for CIBC in Yellowknife in 1972.

Rhonda Bathurst

The Museum of Ontario Archaeology does not provide appraisals. Please consult with the International Society of Appraisers, Canada or your insurance provider.