What could have been a highly embarrassing situation turned out to be a night to remember in Baker Lake on Nunavut Day, July 9.

Pencil artist Gerald Kuehl was in Baker for the Nunavut launch of his book, Portraits of The Far North (featuring portraits of 106 elders), and to unveil his latest drawings of local elders.

Elder Irene Avaalaaqiaq accepts a a book fron pencil artist Gerald Kuehlbehal in Baker Lake on Nunavut Day, July 9, 2019. Photo courtesy of Karen Yip

Kuehl had more than 350 local elders, family and friends respond to posters and invitations; jam-packing the local community hall.

The only problem – Kuehl’s books hadn’t arrived from Rankin Inlet when his launch and unveiling began.

Being a true professional in addition to a highly skilled artist, Kuehl wasn’t about to give up on such a grand evening quite so easily.

With translations being done by Baker MLA Simeon Mikkungwak, Kuehl began speaking to the large audience about his Portraits of the Far North project that he began in 2002. 

He explained to the crowd how he ended up in Baker Lake a year later, and how he has returned to the community many times to capture the elders and their stories during the past 15 years.

Kuehl said it was the presentations following his spiel that really began to capture the crowd.

Pencil artist Gerald Kuehl presents Phillipa Iksiraq with a copy of his book, Portraits of the Far North, in honour of her husbnd, Thomas, as her son, Hosea Iksiraq waits to have his copy signed by the author in Baker Lake on July 9, 2019. Photo courtesy of Karen Yip

He said an image of an elder from his book was projected on a screen and either they or a family member spoke to the audience.

“For the next two hours we laughed and got misty eyed, especially when the elders spoke,” said Kuehl.

“Everyone in the audience realized we were witnessing something special that may never come again.

“My heart almost stopped around 10 p.m. when cases of my book began coming into the hall.

“The timing could not have been better. The audience insisted we finish what we started, so we went ahead and honored the nine elders we hadn’t reached before the books came in.”

Kuehl finished up his screen presentation and then began signing and presenting copies of his book to the 39 Baker elders who appear in the book.

A family member was presented with a signed copy of the book for those elders featured within its pages who had passed away before this grand evening in the community.

Kuehl said he continued signing copies of his book for all who purchased it until almost midnight, when event co-ordinator Karen Yip called a halt to the proceedings.

“We packed up as the band played on and, while watching the square dancers kicking up their heels to the music, I thought I am truly blessed to have been a part of this unforgettable evening.

“I owe a big thank you to all those who played a part in making it happen.

“When the evening was over, it had become even more an amazing event than I had imagined.

“It had become a wonderful celebration of the elders!”

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