Series - Inuit Cultural Institute

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Inuit Cultural Institute

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60cm : textual materials

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Biographical history

George Swinton was born in Vienna, Austria on 17 April 1917. He came to Canada in 1939 and joined the Canadian war effort. He served for 5 years in the Canadian Army, retiring as a Captain (Intelligence Corps) and becoming a Canadian citizen in 1944. Following the war, Swinton studied at McGill, receiving a B.A. in 1946, as well as at the Montreal School of Art and Design (1946-1947) and the Art Students’ League of New York (1949-1950). He held positions as Curator at the Saskatoon Art Centre (1947-1949); Instructor, Graphic Arts and Design, Smith College (1950-1953); Artist-in-Residence, Queen’s University (1953-1954); Industrial Designer, National Gallery (1954); Instructor/Professor, University of Manitoba School of Art (1954-1974); Professor of Canadian Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa (1974-1981); and Adjunct Professor, Department of Art History Carleton University (1981-1985).

Swinton also wrote columns as an art critic for the Winnipeg Tribune between 1954 and 1958 and hosted the CBC radio program “Art in Action” from 1959 to 1962. While teaching at the University of Manitoba from 1965 to 1971, he was Director of Exhibitions for Gallery 1.1.1.. It was there that he mounted the first solo exhibition by an Inuit artist, John Tiktak, in 1970. The exhibition was accompanied by an illustrated catalogue, and demonstrated a new scholarly approach to exhibitions of work by Inuit artists. A member of the Canadian Society for Education through Art, Swinton served as Chairman from 1956 to 1958.

An important collector of Inuit art, George Swinton acquired his first piece of Inuit art in 1950. Following his move to Winnipeg in 1954, Swinton began an association with the Hudson’s Bay Company. This relationship facilitated his first journey to the arctic in 1957 when he was commissioned to write a report on the economic and artistic viability of Inuit art. Swinton’s first collection of 139 sculptures was acquired by The Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1960 (mainly pieces from Inukjuak, Puvirnituq and Salluit), and this established Inuit art as a focus for the Gallery. In 1976, a second collection came to the Gallery from Swinton—this time over 1,000 sculptures and works on paper. A third collection was donated in 1989. Swinton made a further major donation of 371 works to the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1990.

Swinton authored many articles for popular and academic publications and lectured widely in Canada and abroad. He also published several books and catalogues on Inuit art and undertook a systematic study of Inuit art which culminated in his most well known published works; Eskimo Sculpture published in 1965 and Sculpture of the Eskimo published in 1972 (republished as Sculpture of the Inuit in 1992).

George Swinton was the contemporary and friend of many early collectors of Inuit art such as John and Alma Houston, Jerry Twomey and Ian Lindsay. He was frequently consulted by collectors and from 1965 to 1968 Swinton served on the committee which assembled the TD Bank Collection of Inuit art as a centennial project in 1967. He was also closely involved in mounting of the international exhibition “Sculpture/Inuit: Masterworks of the Canadian Arctic” and served on a number of influential boards and committees over the years. Swinton was on the important Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, an advisory body to the federal government on matters of Inuit arts and crafts, from 1967 to 1973. He was also a key advisor to the Inuit Cultural Institute (ICI) between 1974 and 1978 and he was an important advocate for the art of Keewatin communities of Baker Lake, Arviat, and Rankin Inlet. As a recognised expert on Inuit Art and a person knowledgeable about Inuit culture Swinton was often consulted by agencies and institutions, including federal government of Canada, regarding proposed programs and policy development.

George Swinton was also a published poet and an exhibited artist and illustrator with a number of one man shows to his credit and his works are represented in many collections throughout North America. Major exhibitions include a retrospective of his work at Gallery 454 in 1994 and a celebration of his 80th birthday on 17 April 1997 which included works from the collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and private collections in Winnipeg.

Honours awarded to George Swinton include the Centennial Medal; Member of the Order of Canada, 1979; Professor Emeritus of Carleton University, 1986; and an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Manitoba, 1987. George Swinton died in Winnipeg on 22 April 2002.

Swinton was the Curator of the Saskatoon Art Centre from 1947 to 1949. He was an instructor at Smith College from 1950 to 1953 and Artist-in-Residence at Queen's University from 1953 to 1954. That fall, he joined the faculty of the School of Art at the University of Manitoba, a position that he held for twenty years. From 1974 to 1981, he was a professor of Canadian Studies at Carleton University. His final academic position was an adjunct professorship in the Department of Art History at Carleton University from 1981 to 1985.

Swinton had many interests outside of academia. He was the art critic for the Winnipeg Tribune from 1954 to 1958. He hosted the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television series Art in Action from 1959 to 1962. Swinton illustrated a book of poems by Thomas Saunders titled Red River of the North & Other Poems of Manitoba, in 1969. He was the recipient of many honours, including the Centennial Medal in 1967, Member of the Order of Canada in 1979, Professor Emeritus from Carleton University in 1986, and an L.L.D. from the University of Manitoba in 1987.

He was a reknowned authority on Inuit art and the author of numerous articles on the subject. His own art hangs in the National Gallery of Canada, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Winnipeg Art Gallery. He wrote four books: What is Good Design? with Donald Buchanan (National Industrial Design Council, Ottawa, 1964), Eskimo/Sculpture/Esquimade (McClelland & Stewart, 1965), Sculpture of the Eskimo(McClelland & Stewart, the New York Graphic Society and Christopher Hurst of London, 1972), andAlmost Poems (self-published, 2001). A revised edition of his third book was retitled Sculpture of the Inuit (McClelland & Stewart, 1992). He died in Winnipeg on April 22, 2002.

Custodial history

The Inuit Cultural Institute (ICI) was concerned with the healthy survival of Inuit culture and identity. The ICI was formed in 1974 following a meeting of the Inuit Tapirisat (IT) Council in 1973 at which the need for an organisation to promote the preservation of Inuit culture and traditions was discussed. The first meeting of the ICI took place in May 1974 and the ICI was incorporated in October 1974. A decision made to establish offices in what was then known as Eskimo Point -(now Arviat) where suitable existing buildings and adequate transportation and communication links co-existed with a style of life in keeping with Inuit tradition. Early objectives were to “create, provide and increase opportunities for the Inuit of Canada to retain and strengthen their culture and involve themselves in learning processes consistent with Inuit culture” and “to assist the Inuit to participate more effectively in the Canadian society”. The ICI initiated workshops to reinforce cultural awareness among the Inuit and advocated for Inuit control of studies of Inuit culture and traditions. The ICI began important projects to preserve cultural memory of the Inuit including the oral history project ‘Inuit Traditions’ as well as ‘Hunting and Trapping Assistance’ programs. The ICI also a developed standardised orthography for writing Inuktitut that is still in use, produced monthly newsletters, AYURNARMAT and occasional publications, and facilitated educational conferences. George Swinton served as a consultant to ICI between 1974 and 1978. Executive Directors for the period during which Swinton was most closely involved with ICI included Jacob Partridge, Sept 1974 to January 1975 followed by Mark Kulluak and Tagak Curley, ca.1976 to 1978.

Scope and content

Materials described here date to between 1961 and 1978 but primarily date from 1974 to 1978 when George Swinton acted as a consultant to the ICI (Inuit Cultural Institute). Documents primarily consist of correspondence between George Swinton and officers of the ICI, especially the Executive Directors. George Swinton was also copied on correspondence between the officers of ICI and others, such as the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND) and funding agencies. Also described here are ICI administrative documents, minutes of meetings of the Board of ICI between 1974 and 1978 and materials pertaining to ICI programming.

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Items consist of a combination of originals, photocopied reproductions and carbon copies; the location of originals of photocopies and carbon copies described here is not known.

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Items consist of a combination of originals, photocopied reproductions and carbon copies; the location of originals of photocopies and carbon copies described here is not known.

Restrictions on access

No restrictions on access; prior notice required to view.

Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

No reproduction without prior approval of the copyright holder.

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File level description.

Associated materials

Related material: Periodicals and occasional publications produced by the Inuit Cultural Institute have been described as part of the series "Reference Materials. Periodicals and Occasional Publications" described elsewhere in this fonds.

Related to this archival donation are a donation of Swinton's art collection held in the Gallery's permanent collection.


No further accruals are expected.

General note

For further information see the file 'Inuit Cultural Institute' described as part of the series, 'Galleries and Cooperatives' elsewhere in this fonds.

For further information on the ICI and issues of education in the north, see the series, 'Local, Regional and Federal Governments' described elsewhere in this fonds.

Documentary items pertaining to the affairs of the ICI are also found in several files of the series 'Personal,' described elsewhere in this fonds.

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