Story Ideas

Meet the silver king of Iqaluit.

Mathew Nuqingaq is a true master craftsman, bringing the spirit of Canada’s High Arctic to life with dazzling jewellery and enchanting classes.

26 August 2015
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Suggested tweet: Meet Mathew Nuqingaq, Iqaluit’s silver king @NunavutTourism http://ow.ly/QlnqT #explorecanada

When silver artist Mathew Nuqingaq invited me to his Iqaluit studio for an introductory lesson in the art form in which he’s become a master, I said yes in a nano-second. Nuqingaq’s work is renowned across Canada and sold in top galleries and shops, where the orders pile up faster than he can fill them. In the Nunavut Legislative Assembly building in Iqaluit, visitors marvel at his most famous piece: a majestic mace crafted of silver and other precious metals.

Nuqingaq’s jewellery designs celebrate the symbols of the North, such as the ring we were about to create. From a flat strip of unpolished silver, we would make a circle that would then become a tiny replica of an igloo doorway. Nuqingaq had three hours and surprising faith in my ability to learn.

“Where are you from?” he asked. Given that I was thousands of kilometres from home, I assumed Nuqingaq might not have heard of little St. Catharines, ON.

“Niagara Falls,” I said. Close enough.

Never assume.

“The Falls? Really? Not Grimsby? Not Port Colborne?” he asked, accurately listing communities in my area. “Not St. Catharines?”
Nuqingaq, I discovered, studied in St. Catharines as a young exchange student. We quickly identified a number of friends in common, but our world shrank again when we discovered another mutual buddy: a silversmith I’d taken a class from in New Brunswick. Canada isn’t that big after all.

The ice now broken, Nuqingaq asked if I liked music. His CDs included vintage Creedence Clearwater Revival and before long we were singing along at the top of our lungs. As we sang, he taught me to measure my finger’s circumference, warm the silver strip with a blow torch and then work it with his smithing tools into a smooth, round circle.

While belting out “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” we tapped with a silver chisel and small hammer, adding the lines of the igloo to the surface of the ring. We’d moved on to “Up Around the Bend” when we used silver clippers to create the tiny doorway. By the time my ring was polished and our three hours together were finished, we’d rocked out to “Fortunate Son” a couple of times and done a pretty good job on “Down on the Corner.” There’s nothing quite like a teacher who’s such a master at his craft that he can relax and sing while he makes beautiful things.

Nuqingaq is also a master of recycling. Nearly every area of his small studio shows evidence of his talent for repurposing items that others have thrown away. Old golf club heads serve as coat hooks while the nose of a junked airplane is suspended from the ceiling, creating the hood under which he works with soldering irons and etching chemicals.

His is a remote, beautiful world, but Nuqingaq’s work and special classes bring the spirit of the High Arctic into the jewellery cases, display shelves and hearts of art lovers around the world. It’s the magic of a master craftsman.

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