NWT Art Highlights – Sealebration at Makerspace YK

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Blog Entries

March 20, 2023

For six full days in March, 17 Indigenous artisans from across the NWT participated in the fourth annual Sealebration workshop at Makerspace YK. The workshop was organized by the NWT Arts Program with funding from the Certification and Market Access Program for Seals, which is administered through the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  

The workshop, taught by Panos Panagiotidis, a Master Furrier with Fur Canada, was an opportunity for traditionally taught craft artists with experience working with seal and other northern furs to learn how to incorporate contemporary techniques when working with fur.  Participants dove into the fur industry as a whole—where fur is harvested, farmed fur vs wild, and tanning guidelines. They learned about fur characteristics and how to grade fur.

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Hands-on skills were a significant part of the workshop, including how to repair pelts, blocking (stretching the pelt), and an introduction to using a furrier’s sewing machine, which is quite different from a traditional or industrial sewing machine. The workshop also introduced a variety of patterns and the mathematics involved in designing them.

Participants worked with the instructors to create a sealskin jacket, vest and pillow—all of which are now on display in ITI’s Artisan Fur Shop and will be used as examples for future workshops.

Participants described the experience as overwhelming—in a good way. “There was so much information, and things I never considered were possible.” For most NWT craft artists, their experience is based on traditional knowledge, with not a lot of knowledge of contemporary techniques. Learning how to use new tools like a furrier’s sewing machine lets artists work faster and gives innovative new ways to blend and fix furs. “I’ve caught the bug again,” one participant said about gaining the inspiration and confidence to grow their offerings.

Learning how to fix damaged furs was a particular game changer. When done right, it is impossible to see that the fur was even damaged, to begin with, and it allows artists to work with less expensive lower, grade furs, or furs that would have otherwise been unusable.

Turn out for the workshop was excellent. “All participants who could attend showed up for all six days,” noted Johanna Tiemessen, ITI’s Manager of Arts Programming and Traditional Economy. “With such engaged artists attending, it was a great space to foster new friendships, share traditional knowledge, and learn new skills with technology (furrier machines) that wasn’t available to them. The two machines that were purchased as a part of the project will stay at Makerspace YK for artists to use as they continue to build their skills and create new works.”

To close the workshop, participants were given a variety of fur skins and tools to take home so they could continue to hone their new skills and be inspired to create new works for sale.

By advancing this skill development, ITI is supporting the increased creation of contemporary fur products for the marketplace and building a stronger fur industry.

Are you interested in more workshops? Check out NWT Arts’ Selling Your Artwork Workshop Series for videos and guides to selling your art.