INUVIK, Northwest Territories - Because of its isolation from human
populations, the Beaufort Delta region of the Northwest Territories has an
abundance of life.
Combining the wilderness of barren lands of Canada's far north with the icy
water that feeds into the Arctic Ocean, the natural world that survives
there is what intrigues carver Derrald Pokiak Taylor. With an intimate
knowledge of the land, this artist attempts to portray the vividness of
those animals he frequently encounters during what are fleeting moments.
"When I see the animals, I'll follow them in their natural environment.
When the polar bear is on the ice or in the open water, I'll take the time
to watch his movements," said Taylor, 41.
The area around the Beaufort Sea provides an array of food sources year
round. Following a lifetime of subsistence hunting, fishing and whaling,
Taylor maintains a respect for the animals that sustain the Inuvialuit.
"I've hunted caribou all my life so I see when they're walking and running
and that's what I try to copy," he said.
A self-taught carver using the medium of soapstone, Taylor, from
Tuktoyaktuk, population 1,000, north of the Arctic Circle, likely inherited
some of his craftsmanship. Starting with the father, who worked with moose
antlers and whalebone, five of the seven Taylor children now work in the
His carvings possess a beautiful juxtaposition of grace and ruggedness.
Smooth curves along the bears and muskoxen portray the magnificence of
these creatures that are rarely observed.
Showing deftness in his ability to work with the stone, almost as if it was
clay, Taylor's signature is in the edging. Along the animals' backs and
stomachs are tufts of fur blowing in the wind. The artist challenges his
audience to utilize their imagination by envisioning the unforgiving tundra
in which these animals live.
"When you see the polar bears come out of the water, their fur is dripping,
that's my style, to be as realistic as possible," he said.
Taylor possesses diversity in his skills too by working with the brittle
muskox horn. A featured piece of his during the Great Northern Arts
Festival in Inuvik depicted a female crane protecting her eggs. Again, the
opposing blend of elegance and wrath was captured as the mother,
beautifully spanning her wings, clearly defends the nest and her two unborn
His appearance in Inuvik was his fourth at the festival as Taylor now
resides in the territorial capital of Yellowknife, his home for the past
decade. With only one other art show to his credit, in Colorado in 1996,
Taylor remains in the north because of the expense of traveling.
His decision to relocate to the capital was based on the remoteness of
Tuktoyaktuk. Costly shipping of materials and no access to the public and
galleries, artists from Tuktoyaktuk often congregate in Yellowknife where
they work together.
Even as the Northwest Territories increases its profile as a destination
spot for international tourists who are looking for pieces of northern art,
Taylor believes the Inuvialuit have practiced their craft with little
fanfare. That's why he wants to be hands-on during any potential sales.
"A lot of my work I'd rather sell to private buyers because the buyer meets
the artist and I get to meet the buyer," said Taylor, whose work is only in
One of the few shops where Taylor markets his pieces is Long Ago & Far Away
in Vermont. Four years ago gallery owner Grant Turner traveled to Inuvik
where the festival's marketing committee invited him as an expert in
northern Canadian and Native American arts.
Turner noted how Taylor is blessed with the Arctic surroundings. Because he
grew up on the land and remains close to it still, those images are
captured in his art.
"To display the whole herd of muskoxen in a classic defensive posture, it
becomes a family portrait and not just an animal carving," Turner described
of one of Taylor's popular carvings. "With all of his fine details ... you
can tell you're looking at a developing artist and he's not finished in his
Returning to Tuktoyaktuk in the fall for the annual harvest, you can hear
in Taylor's voice some remorsefulness for having left the Beaufort Sea. He
goes back to supply his parents with meat provisions for the winter while
also taking some of the caribou, geese or trout, to take back to
Yellowknife, likely as a reminder of earlier times.
"I've sort of gone away from my traditional way of life, so this story I'm
giving is from before I moved."