Tribute to the Late Terry Ryan
Honourable senators, Terry Ryan was a humble, soft-spoken man who did not seek the limelight. I think this is one of the many reasons the Inuit of Cape Dorset, the community he adopted and which adopted him, loved Terry Ryan so much, because Inuit are also known for their benign and gentle personalities. But it was also because Terry Ryan, on the heels of James Houston, his predecessor and colleague, was a driver of putting Cape Dorset on the world map as the centre of the Inuit art world. As respected art historian Pat Feheley said, in paying tribute to Terry Ryan in a two-part tribute to him she wrote for the Inuit Art Quarterly, “I am often asked to explain the success of Cape Dorset art. One simple answer is: Terry Ryan.”
Terry managed the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, its store and print shop for 40 years from 1960, and in that time encouraged and cultivated famous Inuit artists, including the most famous, Kenojuak Ashevak. Terry’s legacy is also reflected in an innovative new generation of Inuit artists like Shuvinai Ashoona and the late Annie Pootoogook and Tim Pitsiulak.
Pat Feheley also described him as a “pragmatic visionary,” who diversified the co-op into other business opportunities, including hardware, snowmobile sales, postal services, airline agency, construction and fuel. Along the way, he was a hunter, hamlet councillor, justice of the peace, married and buried people, and a self-described “powder monkey” who learned by trial and error to use dynamite in aid of excavating soapstone.
Terry Ryan also introduced Inuit artists to new media, beginning with the pencil drawings he collected in 1964. He acquired a lithograph press and brought it to Dorset by ship and introduced artists to watercolour, oil stick and jewellery making. A wide variety of southern artists were attracted to the North, and Terry arranged for them to come and work amongst and inspire Inuit.
Terry Ryan dreamt big. He envisioned a much-needed new printmaking centre, which, thanks to dedicated fundraisers from the private sector and governments, is being built as we speak on a site Terry Ryan identified years ago. It will be called the Kenojuak Cultural Centre.
Many non-Inuit have come north to seek treasure or advancement or, yes, to make their mark, but few are loved and respected as Terry Ryan was: a great but humble man, adopted and loved by the Inuit. “He was really involved in the Community and he was accepted as part of the community — not an outsider,” said Jimmy Manning, one of Terry’s protégés and past chair of the Inuit Art Foundation.
This is the only tribute Terry Ryan would want. A giant in the Inuit world who saw the potential in now world-famous Inuit artists, Terry passed away August 31 of this year in his birthplace, Toronto.
Nunavut is a much better place for his time there and I pay tribute to him.