Separated by thousands of miles and vastly different climates, there is common ground between the people of south Louisiana and those native to northern Canada.
"The Inuit people were very much like the Cajuns in that the government forced them to go to school and learn a language different than their own," says Elizabeth Weinstein, curator of the Louisiana Art & Science Museum's new exhibit.
Consider it, "Tradition in Transition: Inuit Art & Culture," your introduction to the Inuit.
Once known as Eskimos, the Inuit people preserve their traditions through their art and stories told by one generation to the next. Visitors can discover a different culture, a different way of life, a different art, Weinstein says.
The show runs through June 3 and features pieces from the museum's collection and others loaned by the LSU Museum of Art and private collections.
Inuit are the indigenous people of northern Canada, Alaska and parts of Greenland. This show represents the Inuit of Canada.
They were nomadic communities that lived off the land, where temperatures could fall to 22 to 44 degrees below zero. That's illustrated by the show's centerpiece, a seal skin kayak, which dominates the Main Floor Gallery. The Inuit would have used this one-person vessel to fish and hunt whale and walrus.
"This is part of our collection, and it's the first time we've brought it out," Weinstein says. "What we see as art in this exhibit were ways of life for the Inuit people."
And that includes stone carvings and prints, items the Inuit made for income but have become a history of the culture through the years.
"The Inuit people's traditions can be seen in their artwork," Weinstein says, "and they pass these stories down to future generations through their art."
Stories of hunting, of spirituality and the shaman belief of transitioning from human to animal and back are told through the stone carvings. But the art also tells another story that trails back to the kayak.
Displayed alongside the kayak are hunting tools, a hand-stitched Quillitug parka made of Caribou and fur boots. The Inuit people needed these for everyday survival, but that survival eventually contributed to a downfall in their economy.
Weinstein says the Inuit worked with outsiders in the capitalization of whaling. Whales and walruses faced extinction as they were killed and sold, forcing the Inuit to find other ways to generate money.
So, they turned from sea to land, trapping caribou and other animals for their pelts.
"But not everybody was good at hunting and trapping," Weinstein says. "Whaling was done in a group, so everybody benefited. But hunting and trapping were individual means of making a living."
That's when carvers began selling their wares in trading posts.
"I'm grateful that the Louisiana Art & Science Museum had the vision of collecting this art early," Weinstein says. "We are an art and science museum, and this artwork was collected to show visitors a different way of life."
Most of the artifacts date between the 1920s and the 1950s. Inuit artist cooperatives were first established in the 1950s, with the help of Canadian James Houston, called the "discoverer of Inuit art."
Houston briefly studied art in Paris before traveling to the Canadian Arctic for artistic inspiration. The Canadian government hired him as a civil administrator in Cape Dorset, where his job was to encourage the production of carving and crafts.
In 1957, he introduced the Inuit to printmaking.
"Printmaking wasn't indigenous to the Inuit, because trees weren't a part of their environment, so they had no paper," Weinstein says.
Houston taught artists to carve their images on stone, then print them on seal skin. The Main Gallery upstairs is dedicated to these prints, which, like the carvings, preserve Inuit traditions.
"We have a print by one of the most notable Inuit printmakers in this show," says Weinstein, referencing Kenojuak Ashevak, a member of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset, who was 85 when she died in 2013.
Kenojuak became the first Inuit artist inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2001. At LASM, her print, "Composition," depicts birds, bears and other arctic wildlife transitioning into one another.
There are also several pieces by Pauta Saila, an artist fluent in sculpture and on paper. Pauta was known particularly for his "dancing bears," somewhat abstract stone sculptures of upright polar bears.
Tradition in Transition: Inuit Art & Culture
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday; 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Through June 3.
WHERE: Louisiana Art & Science Museum, 100 S. River Road
ADMISSION/INFO: $9; $7.50 for ages 3-12 and 65 and older. (225) 344-5272 or lasm.org