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Thursday, April 15 • 11:15am - 11:40am
Borderlands | From North to South: The Arctic Travel-Lecture Films of Lewis and Betty Rasmussen

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During the summer months of 1947 Lewis and Betty Rasmussen, an American couple from Racine Wisconsin, completed a feature-length 16mm color documentary film entitled Arctic Holiday about the so-called “Caribou Eskimo.” Enthusiastic amateur film hobbyists, they were keen on translating their love of travel and filmmaking into a way to make a living and Artic Holiday proved to be their successful entry into the world of lecture filmmaking. From the mid-1940s through to the late-1950s, the Rasmussen’s would go on to complete almost a dozen feature-length lecture films about Canada and its northern and Arctic reaches including Arctic Journey, Canoe Country, James Bay Country, Newfoundland and Labrador, North of South, and The Great Mackenzie, amongst others. In addition to collecting images of the north, the Rasmussens also acquired Inuit and Indigenous items which they featured in their films and eventually donated to The Kenosha Public Museum (Kenosha Wisconsin) in the early 1970s.In this presentation I will look more closely at the Rasmussen’s Arctic Journey, a film they premiered in 1950 which depicts their travels around Hudson’s Bay. Of specific interest is a 4 ½ minute section entitled “Stone and Ivory Carvings” that shows detailed images of carvings that the Rasmussen’s acquired during their travels. The Rasmussens’ collection of Inuit carving coincides exactly with the period during which James Houston, a white southerner from Montreal, was making bulk purchases of Inuit carvings in the same region under the auspices of Canadian Handicrafts Guild. Famously, Houston’s subsequent show of Inuit carvings in Montreal sold out almost immediately and he is credited with the birth of modern Inuit sculpture. The Rasmussens, I will argue, are an interesting footnote in this crucial moment in the development of a southern art market for Inuit sculpture. As tourist-filmmakers travelling in the Arctic, the Rasmussens were precisely the kind of qallunaat (non-Inuit) that provided the litmus test for what kinds of objects the southern “white man” would find appealing.


Liz Czach

University of Alberta, Canada

Thursday April 15, 2021 11:15am - 11:40am PDT
Stage A