In from the cold: new Inuit art collection fires imagination in the university library

A new art collection, donated to the university’s library, has a cold and snowy beginning. Norman Zepp (BA ’76) and his wife Judith Varga (BA ’76) have travelled the northern-most part of Canada to research the art created by the Inuit people and have cultivated a nationally-recognized collection over the course of nearly 50 years.

The donation includes over 200 sculptures, dozens of prints and drawings, five wall hangings, a vast set of photographs and original interviews with the Inuit artists—predominantly from the Keewatin region of Nunavut.

“This would be a remarkable collection even if the art weren’t included,” noted Tim Hutchinson, university archivist. “The interviews and archival material provide unique insight into the lives of Canada’s northern artists—indeed it is likely the only in-depth documentation available about many of the artists. This is an invaluable addition to our research collections focusing on the North.”

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Judith Varga (BA’76) and her husband Norman Zepp (BA ’76) have donated their collection of Inuit art to the University Library.

Zepp, an independent art curator and expert in Inuit art, started collecting when he first attended the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) as an art history student, in 1969. Peter Millard, an English professor who was influential in the arts community, introduced him to the works of the Inuit people, and Zepp was hooked.

“I’ve always had an instinct for art,” said Zepp. “I wasn’t aware of this style before then, and I immediately went to the Mendel (art gallery) and bought my first piece.”

Thus began a lifetime studying and working with the Inuit people and their creations. Zepp specialized in Inuit art through his masters of Canadian studies, from the University of Ottawa. While a curator at the Mackenzie Art Gallery in Regina he organized several exhibitions, showcasing the northern creations he had grown so fond of. He also established the Inuit art department for the Art Gallery of Ontario and helped found the Inuit Art Museum in Toronto in 1985.

Zepp’s research trips to Nunavut, at times accompanied by Varga, helped him develop relationships with the artists and learn about the origins of their artwork. “They welcomed us into their homes, so we got to know them,” said Zepp, who noted how worthwhile it was to observe the blending of traditional and contemporary culture, which informed their art.

For instance, some of the most iconic pieces in the collection are the detailed carvings of caribou. Zepp said the Inuit people of the Keewatin region relied heavily on the animal for their existence—for food, clothing, shelter and tools— and the reverence for the animal is reflected in the art. “There are 40 different renderings of the caribou by some of the north’s finest artists,” said Zepp. “It’s such a noble creature and a magnificent subject matter.”

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The historical impact of the collection has not gone unnoticed. This past July the university received word that the Canadian Cultural Property Review Board certified the collection as having ‘outstanding significance and national importance’.

Not only has Zepp brought his lifetime of work to live at the University of Saskatchewan, he has also shared his expertise with the university, by curating other notable Inuit art donations. In 2015 he helped the University Art Collection showcase a collection of Inuit art sculptures donated to the Edwards School of Business by alumnus Sam Schwartz. He also curated the Henry and Cheryl Kloppenburg Collection of Inuit Sculpture which was gifted to the College of Agriculture and Bioresources in 2011.

President Peter Stoicheff noted how important this gift is to the university’s Inuit art collection. “Although we’ve been collecting Indigenous art for decades, in the last few years our collection of Inuit art has expanded impressively in scope,” he said. “Thanks to this donation, we now have a comprehensive overview of this important aspect of Canadian art. Visual art is so important to our campus community, and I’m excited to see how students and researchers use this collection in their work.”

Zepp said it is fulfilling to bring his and Judith’s personal collection to help students at their alma mater. The idea was first proposed to Zepp and Varga by University Archives and Special Collections, and the couple agreed.

“I’m flattered they approached me. It’s rewarding to present the artwork on campus,” said Zepp. “The U of S has always treated Inuit art collections seriously, and I am impressed with how it’s been displayed. I appreciate that the university can put most of its art collection in front of its community.”

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Zepp is hopeful that having the artwork in common library spaces will be encouraging to students, and will provide additional opportunities to visiting community members to absorb the cultural meanings behind the artwork.

Charlene Sorensen, interim dean, agreed. “With the published collections of university libraries being increasingly based on electronic resources, it is rare and unique collections like this one that set us apart,” she noted. “We are so thankful to Norman and Judith for entrusting the University Library with this collection. I look forward to a time when we will be able to have much of the art on permanent display, as an inspiration for students and other visitors to University Archives & Special Collections.”

The Norman Zepp-Judith Varga Collection exhibit is in the Link area of Murray Library until the end of January 2017, and will be available for students and researchers to use in their work through University Archives and Special Collections.

Learn more about the collection in the University Archives and Special Collections in this special video, narrated by Norman Zepp.

Written by Jessica Elfar

National Philanthropy Day: An Honoured Supporter

As part of National Philanthropy Day celebrations, the Saskatoon chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals awarded Jacqui Shumiatcher for her decades of generosity to the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) and its students. At today’s National Philanthropy Day luncheon, Jacqui was recognized with an Honoured Supporter Award—one of 23 awards presented by the association to individuals, families and organizations who have made a positive difference in our community.

Jacqui has always followed her heart with her charitable initiatives, and her support of the U of S began the same way.

Many years ago, Jacqui’s beloved pet poodle—Mr. Pickwick—escaped, ran out onto a busy street and was hit by a vehicle. After rushing the wounded pup to a clinic in Regina with a broken leg, she was referred to the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) as she was told the college had better resources to treat him. Before long, Mr. Pickwick was properly healed and back at home with Jacqui. “I am forever grateful for what they did for him,” Jacqui said of the WCVM. “I was very impressed at how the students took care of not only Mr. Pickwick, but the horses and all the other animals.”

Since then, Jacqui has been supporting the Companion Animal Health Fund, which supports pet health research studies and contributes to specialized training of graduate students. The fund also purchases vital equipment that enhances animal health care and veterinary training at the WCVM.

Jacqui and her late husband, Morris, have also been champions for the College of Law. The Shumiatchers established the Morris and Jacqui Shumiatcher Scholarship in Law, which supports students who are entering the program.

David Stobbe / stobbephoto.ca

Jacqui (right) presenting Jacob Tolton-Morley (left) with the Morris and Jacqui Shumiatcher Scholarship in Law at September’s College of Law welcoming ceremony. (Photo:David Stobbe / stobbephoto.ca)

Morris was one of Canada’s most successful lawyers; His most notable achievement was drafting the Saskatchewan Bill of Rights, which subsequently served as the model for Canada’s Bill of Rights.

Jacqui and Morris were very impressed with the U of S law grads they encountered and wanted to make sure that other students throughout the province could benefit from the program.

“We knew several young people who wanted to study law, but didn’t have the means,” said Jacqui. “By creating this scholarship, we wanted to help out aspiring lawyers and make sure they had an opportunity to pursue their interest.”

One of the most recent recipients of the scholarship is Jacob Tolton-Morley, who says he will always be grateful for the generous contribution. “I was honoured to receive this award from one of Saskatchewan’s most distinguished philanthropists,” said Tolton-Morley. “It has allowed me to focus more of my time on academics and get the most out of my experience at the U of S.”

In addition to supporting scholarships for the WCVM and the College of Law, Jacqui has been a long-time member of the Greystone Circle, a U of S society that honours donors who have made pledged estate gifts to the university and its students.

—Jacqui Shumiatcher (left) with vice president of university relations, Debra Pozega Osburn (right), at the 16th annual AFP National Philanthropy Day luncheon (photo: Dave Stobbe).

—Jacqui Shumiatcher (left) with vice president of university relations, Debra Pozega Osburn (right), at the 16th annual AFP National Philanthropy Day luncheon (photo: Dave Stobbe).

Previously receiving such honours as the Saskatchewan Order of Merit, and Regina’s Citizen of the Year in 2004, Jacqui is delighted and humbled that the Honoured Supporter Award celebrates her deep commitment to the U of S. “It’s a surprise to get recognized because, to me, giving back feels natural and feels like what I should be doing. But I’m thrilled!”

For National Philanthropy Day, Jacqui encourages everyone to find their passionate causes and find ways to support them. “I appreciate anyone who gives back,” she said. “When you donate to worthy causes and you see the results, it gives you an amazing feeling knowing you can help somebody. It doesn’t matter how much you can give because a little bit to some people can be a lot.”

Written by Sean Conroy

Home Ice Campaign has the Wright stuff

A long-time supporter of the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) and Huskie Athletics has made a major contribution to the fundraising campaign to build a new twin-ice facility on campus.

At today’s Huskie Off the Leash Luncheon, the U of S announced that Wright Construction and the Wright family have contributed a $1-million gift in support of the Home Ice Campaign. The campaign seeks to raise $7-million to complete funding to build Merlis Belsher Place.

Lorne Wright (BComm’81), a U of S commerce graduate and the president of Wright Construction Western Inc., said his business and his family are both proud to help out with the project.

“I’ve always had a fondness for the Huskies—it dates back to my time at university,” said Wright, who has been a strong supporter of scholarship programs for Huskie athletes. “It became apparent that this is a very important facility to our community and to our university and we wanted to make a commitment to it.”

Peter Stoicheff noted that the university is also pleased to partner with Wright Construction to build the new facility. He said the Wright family has been working to improve campus for decades. “Wright Construction and the University of Saskatchewan have a long association going back to when Lorne’s grandfather—Sam Wright—built the first buildings on our campus more than 100 years ago. Since then, Wright Construction has been seen regularly on our campus. We are so pleased that Wright Construction and the Wright family are committed to improving our facilities, for student athletes and our community, with this generous donation.”

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President of Wright Construction, Lorne Wright (middle, fifth from left next to hockey legend Lanny McDonald) with supporters of the Off the Leash Luncheon. Wright Construction and the Wright family announced a donation of $1-million to the Home Ice Campaign at the event.

Wright Construction and the Wright family—wife Lynne and siblings Jack, Don and Nancy—have been donating to the university and to Huskie Athletics since 2004.  They have supported the Huskies Off the Leash Luncheon from its beginnings in 2009 as its title sponsor, because it funds scholarships for Huskie hockey players. The Wrights have also established numerous scholarship awards over the years, to support Huskie hockey and basketball athletes.

The donation from Wright Construction and Wright family will provide a significant boost to the campaign to raise funds for the $41-million complex. It will replace the aging Rutherford Rink, which was built in 1929.

“Although it’s been heroic, Rutherford is no longer appropriate for a university of our calibre, as a public facility. It needs to be replaced for the enjoyment of the students and the public as well,” Wright said. He noted his excitement that the university will be reserving a significant number of hours for the use of community hockey programming. “What I thought really took the project up a notch was the plan to build a second rink and bring the community in. The agreement with the Saskatoon Minor Hockey Association is so important, as their programs continue to grow.”

Written by James Shewaga

Gift changed everything for animal sciences student

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Olivia Carolan has dreamt about becoming a veterinarian since an early age. She was raised on a farm in south-west England, surrounded by animals from her very first steps: cats, dogs, and her first love—horses. “I grew up with horses, just like my mom and her parents did,” she said.

Her interest in animals started early, learning to ride horses and care for their injuries. However, it was a personal and heartbreaking experience that settled her decision to pursue an education in veterinary medicine.

“It was putting my horse down—Denahli—who was only eight years old. He had cancerous lumps on his jaw, which is a melanoma tumor common among grey horses,” she explained. “He was my first horse and the one I had the strongest connection with. It was like losing a part of me…he was my best friend.” She added, “That solidified the thought of becoming a veterinarian because I couldn’t do anything to help him with the pain.”

Olivia set her sights on the University of Saskatchewan. It had everything she desired: a dedicated animal bioscience program and a veterinary medicine college, that together, focus on a range of animals, from farm animals to domestic pets.

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Olivia Carolan received financial support to enter the College of Agriculture and Bioresources’ Animal Biosciences program when she was awarded the Peter Lewochko Bursary (Photo: David Stobbe / stobbephoto.ca).

Although she knew the U of S was the right place for her, she was unsure it was possible due to financial constraints. She elaborated, “I was thrilled upon my acceptance to the U of S but was burdened by the cost. I knew I would not be able to attend, and decided to go to a local university that was more affordable. But I still felt a nagging sense of disappointment that I could not attend the U of S.”

It was a U of S donor that changed everything for Olivia. She received much-needed financial support to enter the College of Agriculture and Bioresources’ Animal Bioscience program when she was awarded the Peter Lewochko Bursary, funded through a bequest gift.

She has fond memories of the moment her family received the news. Olivia explained, “My mom phoned me as I had received a package from the U of S. She opened it up right away and immediately started crying. She said, ‘Oh Olivia— they have given you a bursary for all of your tuition and books! You can go to the school you really want to go to!’” Olivia said she was thrilled.

Now in the third year of her undergraduate program, Olivia hopes to be accepted in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in the next two years. Her ultimate career goal is to assist pet owners in making health and nutrition decisions and reduce animal suffering.

“Without receiving this award, I would not be where I am today,” revealed Olivia. “It gives me immense joy that I can be here today and set my sights and aspirations even higher.”

If you would like to support students like Olivia through a gift in your Will, please contact:

Bev Cooper

Director of Gift Planning

Phone: (306) 966-2416

E-mail: bev.cooper@usask.ca

Written by Jessica Elfar

Astronomical Gift

The donation of a unique telescope from a family of U of S alumni will open up new worlds for the College of Arts & Science’s Department of Physics & Engineering Physics.

At a reception on Friday Oct. 28, the department celebrated the Tarasoff 24-inch telescope donated by Karen Larson (BSHEc’74) and her family in memory of her husband Harry Tarasoff (BA’68, LLB’71).

The instrument is likely the largest telescope in Saskatchewan, said astronomer Richard Huziak (BusAdm’92).

The family of the telescope's builder Harry Tarasoff, who donated the instrument in his memory. Left to right: Nissa Baran, Gavril Tarasoff (with daughter Kalyna Tarasoff), Elia Tarasoff, Karen Larson.

The family of the telescope’s builder Harry Tarasoff, who donated the instrument in his memory. Left to right: Nissa Baran, Gavril Tarasoff (with daughter Kalyna Tarasoff), Elia Tarasoff, Karen Larson.

The story of the instrument’s creation is just as unique as the telescope itself. Tarasoff, a Saskatoon business owner with a passion for building and inventing, constructed it in his shop with help from his sons Gavril (BSc’04) and Elia (BSc’07) and installed it in his backyard. After Tarasoff passed away in 2008, his family donated the telescope to the Department of Physics & Engineering Physics, where he completed his first degree.

The instrument is much larger and more powerful than any optical telescope currently in the department’s possession, said senior departmental assistant Yannis Pahatouroglou, and has excellent potential for expanding the university’s research and teaching activities in astronomy. Future undergraduate astronomy students will make use of the telescope in their classes.

“We are so happy that Harry Tarasoff’s love of discovery and invention will benefit students for many years to come,” said College of Arts & Science Interim Dean Peta Bonham-Smith at the event.

The telescope is currently being prepared for installation on the roof of the Physics Building in mid-2017.

Written by Chris Putnam