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Pencil artist sharpens his dream

0307bokz.jpg Pencil artist Gerald Kuehl, originally from Pinawa, Man., displays the two books of indigenous peoples portraits it took him more than 20 years to complete this past week in Winnipeg on June 28, 2019.

The culmination of two decades of pride, determination and effort will be on display in Baker Lake on July 6, when pencil artist Gerald Kuehl holds the Kivalliq's launch of his book, Portraits of the Far North.

It’s the second of Kuehl's efforts to be published, following Portraits of the North two years ago.

Portraits of the Far North was issued last month, featuring 106 drawings and written profiles of Kivalliq elders.

Of those, 39 are from Baker Lake and their families will all receive a free copy of Keuhl's book.

Pencil artist Gerald Kuehl signs a copy of his portrait book, Portraits Of The Far North, in Winnipeg on June 28, 2019.
Photo courtesy of Gerald Kuehl

Twelve new Baker Lake portraits will also be unveiled during the book launch and presented to the elders or their families.

The 12 new portraits will join the 27 currently hanging in Baker's community hall.

Kuehl said Calm Air – helping to sponsor the book launch in Baker – has been assisting him with Portraits of the Far North since 2003.

He said the project would not have been possible if not for the airline's help and sponsorship.

“My first book has been very successful; spending the first seven months after its release on the Manitoba Bestseller List,” said Kuehl.

“My expectations are high for my second book, especially given the current love affair for polar people such as Inuit and Sami around the world today.

“My publisher, VIDACOM, has very high hopes for the book's international success and, during the fall of 2020, we're taking both books to Frankfurt, Germany, to attend the biggest book fair in the world.”

Kuehl said it took longer than he thought to go through the process and complete the two books.

He said VIDACOM is one of the better publishers in Manitoba, but it's still a small publisher and things always take longer.

“I've been involved with Inuit culture since my first trip to Rankin Inlet in 2002, and the biggest difficulty we ran into was that my French editing team, which was comprised of very smart and hardworking people, knew absolutely nothing about Inuit culture, so there was a definite learning curve.

“Getting through the process wasn't bad for me because Calm Air's sponsorship, especially for the second book, was always solid.

“Although I was working very, very hard – it was all I did for 22 years – I had good support from a lot of people and several organizations.

“Seven years ago, I had a bad car accident while driving to an exhibit of mine in Northern Manitoba. That's when it occurred to me that if something happens to me, I'm in trouble, and that will be the end of my work.”

Kuehl's brush with disaster led him to decide it was past time to put all his portraits and biographies together and get them into two books.

He knew at that moment he could not quit until the books were produced.

“I fulfilled that dream as of three weeks ago when the second book came out, so everything after that, to me, is all gravy.”

Kuehl said both books champion the human spirit, whether they're challenging the environment or social injustice.

He said the first book is strongly involved with fighting social injustice – what's happened to First Nations and Metis – while the second one is predominately about struggling for life on the land and surviving one of the most hostile landscapes in the world.

There aren't too many people who can pour their creative blood, sweat and tears into a project over two decades and not be affected, if not changed, by the experience.

Pencil artist Gerald Kuehl, originally from Pinawa, Man., displays the two books of indigenous peoples portraits it took him more than 20 years to complete this past week in Winnipeg on June 28, 2019.  Photo courtesy of Gerald Kuehl

And, for 22 years, Keuhl walked heavily in Metis, First Nations and Inuit culture.

Keuhl said he looks back upon it now as an enriching experience, during which he gathered a tremendous amount of knowledge.

He said that rings especially true at a time when Canada is involved in reconciliation, and he wishes the average Canadian had a fraction of his experiences.

“The First Peoples of this country have amazing cultures and I have an immense appreciation for the people, their traditional cultures and who they are.

“I can't say enough about my experiences with the Metis, First Nations and Inuit. They were truly, truly great!”