Canadian Inuit Art: A Creative Miracle of the Twentieth Century

Prof Nelson Graburn, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, USA

The commercialization of Inuit art involved commoditization, heritagization and touristification, while fostering a new authenticity. The period 1960 – 2000 was the most crucial in Inuit history, when many Inuit gave up nomadic hunting, and arts and crafts became not only a major source of livelihood but also a frame upon which to express their threatened cultural identity. Fortuitously, James Houston, an independent artist, spent summer 1948 in two Inuit villages, encouraging them to make soapstone models in exchange for his portrait sketches. Later the government employed Houston to foster more sculptural arts and start a printmaking programme. The Inuit believed these productions were their messages to the world about their unique and fast disappearing culture. They became a major iconic Canadian tourist art and national heritage, collected and exhibited by museums and heralded and gifted internationally by diplomats and politicians.

Nelson Graburn was educated at Cambridge (1958), McGill (1960) and Chicago (PhD 1963), and Northwestern (Postdoc, 1963-64). He has taught at U C Berkeley for 54 years, serving as Curator of the Hearst Museum and Chair of Canadian Studies and of Tourism Studies ( He also taught in Canada, France, UK, Germany, Sweden, Portugal, Japan, and Brazil and China. He has carried out research on change, identity, multiculturalism, museums, art and tourism among Canadian Inuit (1959-2014), in Japan (since 1974) and in China (since 1991). He has recently received awards for his works on the culture of wine consumption in China, ethnic tourism and rural development in China, and on disciplinarity, research methods and publication in the study of tourism.

No events are currently scheduled. Details of future events will be posted as they become available.

Date & time

Wed 11 Sep 2019, 11.30am–12.30pm


Sir Roland Wilson Building, ANU 2.02


Nelson Graburn



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