Johnassie Faber Quarqortoq, People in a Boat, 2006

John Tiktak, Mother and Child, 1961-63

The Stafford Collection of Inuit Sculpture

A recent donation of Inuit sculpture, the largest gift of Inuit art since the Harry Winrob Collection, fills important gaps in the WAG’s collection. The Stafford Collection consists of 121 sculptures mainly from the 1980s to the 2000s. Assembled over the past two decades, it includes works by such established artists as Osuitok Ipeelee, Davidee Atchealak, Aqjangajuk Shaa, Kiugak Ashoona, Luke Anowtalik, Nuna Parr, Lukta Qiatsuk, and Abraham Anghik Ruben.

Some of these later sculptures are considered signature works for the artists. Elegant caribou by Osuitok Ipeelee are among his best-known carvings and two fine examples were collected by Stafford. Also included in the donation are two of Davidee Atchealak’s animated polar bears, Kiugak Ashoona’s Natturalik theme, and lyrical pieces by Abraham Anghik Ruben in his characteristic medium of Brazilian soapstone. The collection also includes work by younger artists such as Tukiki Manomie, Adla Ashevak, Joseph Suqslak, and Toonoo Sharky. Stafford was also able to acquire earlier pieces from the 1960s and 1970s by deceased artists such as Karoo Ashevak, John Tiktak, John Pangnark, and Vital Makpaaq.

Robert (Bob) Stafford was born in Cornwall, England. His engineer father joined the Canadian Merchant Navy during the Second World War in 1943. The family emigrated to Canada in 1946 and settled in Hamilton, Ontario. Stafford began his career in the investment business in 1956, first in Kitchener and then in Toronto and Hamilton. In 1962 he was transferred to Winnipeg and later worked for BMO Nesbitt Burns. After 48 years, he is now retired.

Bob Stafford and his wife Marlene began buying work by Winnipeg artists in the early 1970s and  soon broadened their collecting to include artists from other parts of Canada. Some of their favourites included Leo Mol, W.J. Phillips, Clarence Tillenius, Tony Tascona, and Robert Kost.

Stafford’s interest in Inuit sculpture began about twenty years ago when he purchased two small pieces from a neighborhood gallery. As he visited more galleries and auctions, it became more than a passing interest and Stafford now recognizes that he in fact “got carried away.” As he learned more about the art and artists, he focused his collecting on purchasing recent work by the most prominent sculptors. He met Inuit artists as he visited galleries and was fascinated by their creative ability to shape beautiful animals, human figures, and more mystical images from raw pieces of stone.

One of the highlights of Stafford’s collecting career was meeting Jerry Twomey, whose 4,000-piece sculpture collection was acquired by the WAG in 1971. The Staffords frequently spent winters in San Diego, California,and learned that Twomey lived nearby. The two men became friends until Twomey’s death in 2008 at the age of 93. Stafford has explained, “He was one of the most interesting and knowledgeable people I have ever met—especially about Inuit art. I learned much from him and truly miss his friendship and conversation.”

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