Grenfell Mission Inuit Bookends

26 Nov
Photo of Grenfell Bookends

Grenfell Mission Bookends

In 1892 medical missionary Wilfred Grenell sailed up and down the Labrador coast as an emissary of the United Kingdom’s National Mission to Deep Sea Fisherman investigating the medical needs and welfare of the local fisherman while delivering medical care from his base on the medical vessel Albert.  Grenfell returned to Labrador and Newfoundland in 1893 and established the Grenfell Mission providing care to the itinerant fishermen, their families and to the local native inhabitants (Inuits/Eskimos).

As the Mission(s) expanded through the region an industrial works program was established to encourage the production of crafts by the local population and to create a source of income.   The  Grenfell Missions native people developed a handicraft tradition and created hooked rugs, knitted goods and bookends for sale.  The bookends shown here are carved and painted wood.  Identical bookends were created as early as 1909.

Dr. Grenfell used photographs and lantern slides lectures to promote the work of the missions and to solicit donations.  In doing so he left a photographic record of the earliest days of the Grenfell Missions and the products they produced.  The Rooms, a combination of provincial archives, art gallery, and museum in St. John’s, NL Canada houses an excellent and digitized collection of these lantern slides that can be viewed on line.  A set of bookends can be viewed midway down the far left of the picture on THE IGA Lanternslide Show: IGA 12- 28 “Pictures and handcrafts”.  Just click on the foregoing link.

The Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL also houses photographs and lantern slides from the International Grenfell Association.  The photograph, “Unidentified Inuit Man” bears a strong resemblance to the faces painted on the Grenfell bookends.

Photo of Unidentified Inuit Man

“Unidentified Inuit Man” PF-323.038 – in the International Grenfell Association Lantern Slides Collection at the Maritime History Archive, Memorial University, St. John’s, NL. Used by permission.

Today the missions still function under various auspices as the International Grenfell Association.  The bookends and other goods are considered valuable folk art by collectors and sell for relatively high prices.


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