CANADIAN COLLECTORS LINE up before dawn when a new crop of Cape Dorset Eskimo prints and sculpture goes on sale. There was no pre-dawn line for last weekend's opening of the 10th Annual Exhibition of Canadian Eskimo Art at the Franz Bader Gallery, but buyers here were no less enthusiastic. By evening, they had mobbed the gallery and bought dozens of scupltures and prints from what most agreed was the best Eskimo art show at Bader's in years.
Since they arrived in this hemisphere 3,000 years ago, the Inuit (whom we call Eskimos) have carved blocks of native green, gray and black soapstone and whalebone, releasing powerful and poetic images of seals and bears, fish and birds and scary shaman and spirit figures -- the natural forces that rule their lives. These continue to be their chief subject matter today, not only in sculpture but also -- thanks to the government's introduction in the 1950s of paper and stone-cut etching, lithography and stencil techniques -- in their prints. The Cape Dorset printmakers, among the best in the business, produce two new portfolios each year -- 50 stone-cut etchings in the fall (each handprinted in a limited edition of 50) and 50 new lithographs each spring. It is the bold yet intricately worked stone-cut etchings that are being premiered in the Bader show, at 2001 I St. NW.
Each viewer will find favorites, such as Kananginak's spirited scene of a tiny animal battling an owl, Kingmeata's anthropomorphic hawk and bear conversing and Lucy's poetic rendering of the legendary Talelayou. Among the dozens of carvings is a splendid bird by Hounuk, a woman artist from Cape Dorset, and several shaman figures who simultaneously incorporated human and animal forms.
Some of the very finest carvings, however -- those, made from old, weathered whalebone -- are noticeably absent, as they have been since 1974, when the Endangered Species Act and other mammal protection legislation outlawed the importation of whalebone in an attempt to prevent the further killing of whales. The irony is that the whalebone used by Eskimo carvers is centuries old, and has absolutely nothing to do with the current mass slaughter of whales.
The exhibition is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 to 6, through Nov. 14. In addition, the Canadian Embassy is sponsoring a free noontime showing of films on Eskimo art today at the NAB Building, 1771 N St. AMERICAN LANDSCAPES
It is inevitable that when a market gets "hot" -- as the 19th-century American art market is right now -- lesser artists long forgotten (sometimes with good reason) and lesser works by good artists often get flushed out of attics and find their way back to the marketplace -- often at inflated prices.
"The Legacy of the Hudson River School: American Landscapes 1860-1880" now at Adams Davidson Gallery, 3233 P St. NW, is such a show, something we know largely because this gallery -- along with area museums -- has done so much in recent years to sharpen our tastes. There are some good drawings, notably Aaron Shattuck's view of boys lolling by a river bank, and respectable paintings by Sanford Gifford and John Williamson, along with the worst Blakelocks I've ever seen. The one sunny spot is the idyllic "Afternoon in the Meadow," by James Renwick Brevoort. The show is open Tuesday through Fridays, 10 to 5, and Saturdays from noon to 6 until Nov. 21. A CHANGE OF QUARTERS
Photography dealer Kathleen Ewing has moved out from under the Whitehurst Freeway to more commodious quarters at 3243 P St., formerly occupied by Lunn Gallery. The new space permits the first good look ever at the span of Ewing's inventory, and it is impressive, ranging from contemporary works in black and white and color by Americans and Europeans like Claudia Smigrod, Mark Power, Michael Kenna and Hubert Grooteclaes to scenes of the '20s by Ralph Steiner. There are also some 19th-century images, notably those of a camel train near Algiers, taken by Francis Firth in 1957. The show continues through Dec. 3, and hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 6.