Daughter found her late father’s painting from Chesterfield Inlet boarding school


Cinthia Alaralak imagines her late father, John Illupalik, longing to come home when he painted a team of sled dogs resting next to two igloos, with an inukshuk on a mountain in the distance.

He was maybe eight or nine years old at the time, at the Chesterfield Inlet school in what is now Nunavut, where he would spend much of the 1960s.

“I think he was really homesick for igloos,” she said.

Now, 60 years later, the painting has returned to her daughter in Igloolik. It came home after Valerie Ipkarnerk, who has owned the painting for years, launched an online search for its rightful owner.

“He would feel happy, good about it. He would talk about it — I’m sure he would talk about it, how he painted it, when he painted it,” Alaralak said, imagining how Illupalik would react if he had the painting at home. .

Illupalik died at the end of April 2021. Alaralak remembers him telling her about this painting – he sold it for $20, which seemed like a lot of money for a young boy in the 1960s.

John Illupalik, left, with his daughter Cinthia Alaralak. (Submitted by Cinthia Alaralak)

For years after that, it hung in a room in the old St. Theresa’s Hospital in Chesterfield. This is where Ipkarnerk remembers seeing her for the first time when she was a little girl.

“We used to go to the hospital and go visit the patients there, and every time I used the phone, there was a little room for the phone and the paint was always there. “, she said.

“I knew it had a special meaning or something.”

Years later, as Ipkarnerk was helping to sell all the items left behind at the hospital before it closed, she decided to buy two of the paintings that hadn’t sold. One of them was the work of Illupalik.

“This painting has always caught my eye,” she said.

Find its creator

Ipkarnerk said at first that she hadn’t thought about who painted it. Then, in 2012, his late cousin Bernadette Niviatsiak spotted him and exclaimed that she knew his creator.

“She said, ‘Well, I should take that painting with me – I know the person who did it! ‘” Ipkarnerk recalls with a laugh. “But it seemed like I had a connection, a connection to this painting, so I kept it.”

John Illupalik painted this while at Chesterfield Inlet boarding school 60 years ago. (Submitted by Cinthia Alaralak)

Niviatsiak died in January.

“I was thinking about her and thinking, maybe I should try to find the person who painted it,” she said.

The search, once started, was over in an instant. Ipkarnerk posted on an Iqaluit Facebook page, and within minutes Cinthia’s friends tagged her in the post.

“I’m so happy that Cinthia and her siblings can keep the painting, and I hope she treasures it,” Ipkarnerk said.

Alaralak said he found the artwork of her smile, his father, brought a mix of emotions. The painting arrived in Igloolik before the first anniversary of Illupalik’s death.

“I was happy, I was emotional. I had them mixed together, so I couldn’t cry — I was just happy when I received it,” she said.