Millbrook Resident Opens Inuit Art Gallery Linked to Unique History


Photo Karen Graham.
Leslie Boyd continues to support the Dorset art community with her new gallery in Port Hope.

Leslie Boyd has spent a great deal of her life in the remote community of Cape Dorset located on the south west corner of Baffin Island.

A city girl from Toronto, growing up she spent weekends and holidays at her parents’ recreational property in the area, first at a farm in Bailieboro, and later in Campbellcroft.  Now a permanent resident of Millbrook, Leslie has invested much of her life’s work helping the Inuit people of Cape Dorset develop and promote their artwork through their jointly-owned organization, The West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative.

Established in 1959, the art co-operative was launched with the support of the Department of Natural Resources and Northern Development which introduced the concept as a way to develop the local economy.  Its print making studio was launched by Toronto artist and adventurer James Houston in 1959 who was working as an agent of the federal government to develop an art program in the area.  Houston introduced a Japanese print-making technique which the Dorset artists adapted with local stone, resulting in a unique print style.  This co-operative now represents the longest, continuously running printmaking operation in Canada, producing an annual catalogue of prints for sale around the world since 1959.  In addition to prints, the community also produces stone carvings from local serpentinite and marble.  Houston was also instrumental in launching the sale of local sculptures, personally purchasing selections and displaying them in a Montreal gallery, where they were met with a strong reception.

In 1978 the organization established a wholesale marketing division called Dorset Fine Arts to develop and serve the market for Inuit fine art produced by the artist members of the co-operative.  Sales and exhibitions of prints, drawings and sculptures are made through its showroom in Toronto to galleries around the world, including Leslie’s gallery in Port Hope.

A model for community-based ownership and development, the commercial success of this co-operative has resulted in income for many members of the community, as they share their culture through prints, drawings and sculptures.

Leslie’s first visit to Cape Dorset came when she was 23 and took a summer Co-op job with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative to get out of the city and do something different.   With a strong interest in community development, this summer job really hit home.  At the end of her summer stint, she returned home to pick up more clothes and returned to the co-op where she spent the next ten years working with the organization.  Demands of a family eventually forced the decision to return to Toronto, but she continued to work for the co-op in their marketing arm, Dorset Fine Arts, and took a graduate degree in Environmental Studies and Community Development.

Her decision to open her own gallery is a natural extension of her desire to support this vibrant art community which has played such a significant role in her life, and she in theirs.  Her gallery in Port Hope works closely with and obtains its inventory from the co-operative’s marketing division, Dorset Fine Arts. KG


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