It’s among the last places you’d expect to find valuable Inuit artwork.
But in an old, dilapidated house in Detroit new homeowners did just that.
“My husband and his business partner flip homes and, several months ago, they came into possession of a home that was very badly water-damaged,” said Tamara Noskov, whose husband Andrey is one of the home’s owners.
The house had been sitting empty for years. When the previous owner died, his family sold it and some of its contents.
Abandoned inside however, were at least 40 original and signed prints by artists from Kinngait (formerly Cape Dorset), Nunavut, including the renowned Kenojuak Ashevak.
“As we slowly went through it, we realized that they were actually some very valuable and interesting pieces,” said Noskov, who was tasked with taking care of the artwork.
“Some of the most beautiful and precious pieces were found in the garage, under garbage, under rotten paper and all different types of things,” she said. “Maybe they just didn’t know what they had in their hands.”
The prints are from the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Kinngait, a hamlet on the southern tip of Baffin Island.
The co-operative distributes its prints, drawings and sculptures to museums and private collectors. In 2018, it opened the Kenojuak Cultural Centre, a community hub, studio and exhibition space.
William Huffman, marketing manager of the co-op’s Toronto office, said it’s incredible how prolific the organization’s artists have been.
What’s more, he said, “the monetary value of this work is exploding.”
Huffman said in the early days, prints sold for $35. Today, pieces by artists such as Ashevak, who died in 2013, are worth thousands.
“Just last year, one of her most recognizable pieces, Enchanted Owl, was sold at auction for $216,000. It is the highest price for a print in the history of secondary market in this country,” he said.
After discovering the prints, Noskov posted about them in a Facebook group called Inuit Art Enthusiasts and received a flurry of comments.
She then reached out to a Adnan Charara, a family friend and the owner of Galerie Camille in downtown Detroit.
“[Charara] is going to help us find the best owners for these beautiful pieces,” said Noskov, after having some of them restored.
“Some are really damaged,” Charara said. “They have mould, they have a lot of stains.”
Others have tears and wrinkles, and are printed on very delicate papers. But Charara says most can be saved.
He plans to exhibit the salvaged collection at his gallery and online in the coming weeks.