Small Town Girl, Big Talent: Nicole Camphaug Makes Beautiful Things
“I think my favourite part of the day is being able to create something that is so beautiful and then to show the ability of somebody in Nunavut to be able to produce such a beautiful thing. I get so inspired to be able to show the abilities of a small-town girl,” Nicole Camphaug shares. She is from Rankin Inlet but lives and works in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Camphaug owns ENB Artisan with her husband, a small business that customizes seal fur footwear and makes fine jewelry. She’s inspired by what can be made from the gifts of the land, without wasting anything.
“I want to share the beauty of something that is so natural to us.”
While she and her husband took jewelry programs, Camphaug learned how to work with seal and furs from her grandmother, mother, and aunt. “School for my day job was a little bit more formal and structured, whereas the schooling for making jewelry or seal products was just something that came to me as being an Inuk woman,” she explains. Alongside her entrepreneurial pursuits, she works a day job with the government.
“When I came up with the idea to customize footwear, it was another way to celebrate the seals that are so important to us, that have sustained us for 1000s of years.”
In the winter she makes jewelry, furniture, shoes, and pillows. Since Nunavut summers are short, she tries to keep her business less busy so she can spend time outdoors fishing, berry picking or just enjoying the season. In the beginning, it was challenging to make it all work but she’s learned to find balance while giving the process of getting ready for upcoming tradeshows the attention it needs.
Life is busy for Camphaug, as the mother of a ten-year-old daughter. She takes care of her family, works her day job, and then works on her business projects. She remembers how early on she pushed her daughter aside to try and get as much done as possible and it’s not how she runs her business anymore.
Camphaug had been getting ready to sell her products down South and in the end, the uptake wasn’t what she thought it would be. People laughed at what she made and of the 20 or 30 pairs of shoes she had, she sold only a handful. “They're still learning about the importance of seals, and how it's important to us,” she explains. She takes every opportunity to educate herself about her cultural values wherever she goes, but she’s also learned to accept that some people don’t accept the way her people use furs.
Her advice for young people looking to revitalize or reclaim their culture through artistry is to just try. “We never really know what we're capable of until we really give it an honest try,” she advises. “I never knew that I could do such beautiful work on shoes. I tried and I'm able to dress people in shoes they can’t get anywhere else in the world, and that's all from trying,” she continues. Not everything she’s tried has been enjoyable. Making beaded bracelets was something she learned she’s able to do but she didn’t enjoy it, so she sticks to what she enjoys.
Looking to the future she says, “I think one of the hopes that I have in terms of seal is that it is revived to the greatness that it once was.” She understands the concerns of animal rights activists but insists, “perhaps, it’s a form of nourishment for a community.” At the same time, she would like to see seamstresses and hunters well compensated for their craft and for light to be shed on the wonders of her culture. One day, she would like to be a full-time artisan, to be able to produce seal fur and jewelry products full time and not have to rely on a government job.
In the end, she hopes people listening to her story will be able to do what they want with their lives. “Whether it be a government job that they want to work full time at, or to have a side business or to be an artist, I think that those are all important things that people should just get out and try for what they want. It's their lives,” she asserts.
Meanwhile, Nicole Camphaug is doing what she wants with her life, creating things that show how a small-town girl can make something beautiful. Sharing her abilities and making what she can from the gifts of the land, she’s careful not to be wasting anything, especially not her talent and time spent pursuing her dreams.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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