Ken Kirkby

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When Ken Kirkby unveiled his painting, Isumataq in Parliament on March 28, 1992, he had to make do with a 25-foot model and the first four panels of the painting itself. The original, at 152` long and 12` high would not fit into the building. But even the model brought tears to the eyes of the 301 members of Parliament and senators gathered there. Isumataq is an Inuit word meaning, "An object in the presence of which wisdom might show itself" and refers to the manlike monuments of stone called Inuksuit that the Inuit have erected for generations to serve as travel guides and markers of good hunting and fishing. Kirkby`s hope was that the enormous painting he had been working on for ten years would open people`s eyes to the beauty of the north and to the plight of the Inuit in that far land. Kirkby describes Isumataq as "the portrait of the soul of a nation." In the speech he made to parliament that day, Kirkby said, "Isumataq is my tribute to Canadians. It is my homage to the Canadian Arctic and its peoples who inspired me to paint it. Isumataq is made of years of personal effort and millions of individual brush strokes–as Canada has been made of the efforts of millions of individuals. Isumataq is an invitation and it is a demand. Let`s join each other and be worthy of this place." Ken Kirkby: A Painter`s Quest for Canada is the story of a remarkable man who was born in England during the Second World War and grew up in Portugal under the tutelage of an old fisherman who filled his head with visions of a land of snow, icebergs and polar bears–a land of adventure and freedom. The young boy grew into a man who was determined to see that country. For more than four years, Ken Kirkby lived with the Inuit on the land. From them he learned how to live in harmony with the earth. He travelled across the north from Alaska to Baffin but it was in the eastern Arctic, in the place now called Nunavut that he first encountered an Inukshuk. For Kirkby, these majestic stone cairns became the symbol of all that was good and true and noble about these people and their way of life. When he finally left the Arctic with the images of snow, brilliant skies, towering icebergs and unspeakable suffering engraved on his soul, he was determined to help the Inuit gain their rights and freedom. He had not seen democracy at work in that land. Government there consisted of the RCMP, the clergy, and the factor of the Hudson`s Bay Company. His tribute to them was Isumataq, which may well be the defining work of Ken Kirkby`s life. But like the painting, Ken`s story is larger than life. This book is a story of passion and dedication to art, to Nunavut and to a country called Canada.