Following a riveting round of bidding at Waddington’s in Toronto, ON on November 20th, a copy of the 1960 print The Enchanted Owl by celebrated artist Kenojuak Ashevak, CC, ON, RCA (1927-2013) sold for $216,000 the highest amount paid for print by a Canadian artist at auction. The previous record was held by Sybil Andrews, whose Speedway sold for $129,000 in 2015. The previous records for Inuit prints at auction were held by Ashevak’s Rabbit Eating Seaweed (1960) and another copy of The Enchanted Owl when they sold for $59,000 in 2015 and $58,650 in 2001 respectively. When released in 1960, Ashevak’s The Enchanted Owl retailed for $75.00 Canadian dollars. But, in the nearly six decades since its release, the prices paid for the print have risen astronomically.
Based on a pencil drawing now in the collection of the National Gallery of Canada, an edition of 50 stonecut prints of the The Enchanted Owl were created for the second Kinngait (Cape Dorset) print release in 1960. The print, cut by Eegyvudluk Pootoogook (1931-2000) and printed by Iyola Kingwatsiak (1933-2000) was released in two versions: 25 red and black and 25 green and black. The “red-tail” version is the most coveted among collectors, consistently commanding higher prices than the “green-tail” version. Due to the fugitive nature of red pigment, a handful of the twenty-five prints have faded to orange, so to find a bright red copy like the one sold at Waddington is exceptionally rare.
The image of the lone owl—facing forward with plumes radiating outwards—has come to be the most recognizable work of Inuit art. It has appeared on the cover of books, a 1970 stamp celebrating the centennial of the Northwest Territories, calendars, scarves and most recently a large-scale mural at the Iqaluit Airport. The Enchanted Owl was also a personal favourite of the artist, who was once quoted as saying, “I am an owl, and I am a happy owl. I like to make people happy and everything happy. I am the light of happiness and I am a dancing owl.”
Only 50 editioned prints and a handful of proofs were created and in the years since its release. Further, copies of The Enchanted Owl have been lost, damaged and collected by museums and galleries, limiting the number available on the open market.
Copies of the print are also in the collections of the Government of Nunavut, West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Gallery of Windsor, Brooklyn Museum, Dennos Museum, La Guilde, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, Museum of History, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, National Gallery of Canada, University of Michigan Museum of Art and Winnipeg Art Gallery.