Jessie Oonark artworks return to Yellowknife’s courthouse

Some large works by one of the most internationally celebrated Inuit artists of the 20th century are back on display in Yellowknife.

Jessie Oonark’s wall hangings, prints, and drawings are held in such places as the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, and the collection of Pope John Paul II in the Vatican City. 

However, most people who see the latest exhibit of wall hangings by the late Baker Lake artist will not necessarily be art lovers – they are installed in the second-floor hallway and waiting area of the Yellowknife Courthouse.


“They adorned the courthouse second-floor lobby for many years up until 2015, at which time they were removed for cleaning while the space was being painted,” said Department of Justice spokesperson Ngan Trinh.

“They were finally reinstalled this past week.”

Jessie Oonark. Photo: Oonark estate

Oonark was 54 years old when her talent was first noticed among art collectors. Over the next 19 years, she was extremely prolific.

In 2015, a wall hanging created in 1969 – depicting a hunting scene – sold for $70,800, a new record for one of Oonark’s works.

Oonark also has a large wall hanging in the NWT Legislative Assembly building.


The artist died on March 7, 1985 in Churchill, Manitoba, and is buried on Blueberry Hill in Baker Lake.

Meanwhile, several large display cases on the second floor of the courthouse remain empty. The secure glass cases are waiting until early 2022 for the return of the storied Sissons/Morrow collection of Inuit carvings, which are on loan to the Nunavut Court of Justice. 

The collection’s cases were twice broken into while on display in Yellowknife in the late 1990s, with several carvings stolen.

Jessie Oonark in Baker Lake sewing a wall hanging in the early 1970s
Jessie Oonark in Baker Lake sewing a wall hanging in the early 1970s. GNWT/NWT Archives
Jessie Oonark in Baker Lake sewing a wall hanging in the early 1970s
Examples of Oonark’s work inside the Yellowknife Courthouse. Photo: GNWT