CANADIAN ESKIMO ART 1978 - Carvings and Cape Dorset Prints, through December 2 at Franz Bader Gallery, 2124 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

For 2,000 years, Eskimos of the Arctic Circle have meticulously chiseled small carvings of animals, deities and scenes of tribal life from bone and soapstone, whiling away nine months of darkness each year. Soapstone carvings from Repulse Bay and Baker Lake and graphics from Cape Dorset give us a glimpse of the lifestyle, culture and values the Eskimos have managed to retain.

The series of works now at Franz Bader Gallery, which has been exhibiting the Eskimos' work for the last six years, show an artistic shift: The vibrant yellows, red-oranges, blues and greens that dominated the earliest stonecuts have become more subtle, often appearing as accents outlined in black. The most recent prints reflect an increasing influence from the outside world - the streamlined and elegantly varied green lines of the sea birds in Eliyakota's stonecut and etching "Field of Brids," for example, convey more depth and dimension than earlier Eskimo work.

Modern graphic techniques, including acrylic ink and the tools that go with it, were introduced to Cape Dorset about 20 years ago, so that traditional subjects - whales, birds, caribou, seals, wolves, bears and tribal scenes - are rendered with more sophistication, cut from flat stones and printed on standard art paper.

Each stone, the Eskimos say, is endowed with its own eccentricities or spirit, and the artist must incorporate these into the sculpture: Pronounced streaks of color may be blended into the carved hair of a bust, or a second face might be cut into its back to accentuate an unusual contour. Soapstone, plentiful in the Arctic Circle, varies in color from place to place, so the works are in hues ranging from deep sea-green to ivory.