Canadian Museum of History announces major bequest of Inuit art from late Dr. Margaret Hess

GATINEAU, Quebec — The Canadian Museum of History is delighted to announce the generous gift of almost a thousand works of Inuit art from the estate of Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Perkins Hess.

Dr. Hess, a well-known art lover and adventurous spirit from Alberta, travelled extensively across Canada’s North, assembling this visually rich and historically important collection of sculptures, prints and more.

“We are honoured and thankful that Dr. Hess chose to bequeath a portion of her remarkable collection of Inuit art to the Canadian Museum of History, who will cherish this legacy for generations to come,” said Mark O’Neill, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of History.

Dr. Margaret (Marmie) Hess at her Spencer Creek Ranch near Cochrane Alberta.

“She was a great supporter of Canadian culture and a champion of Indigenous artists. Her commitment to the North and to its people resulted in a collection of exceptional breadth and quality that we look forward to sharing with new audiences.”

Dr. Hess was an internationally recognized art historian and lecturer, business person, rancher and philanthropist. Born in Calgary in 1916, she studied in Toronto in the mid-1930s. There, she befriended members of the Group of Seven, who spurred her lifelong passion for art and the Canadian wilderness. Her interest in Indigenous peoples and her pioneering spirit led her to the North, where she developed close relationships with Inuit artists and often bought works directly from them. In 1970, she opened Calgary Galleries Ltd., an early venue to promote Indigenous art.

This major gift from the estate of Dr. Hess features more than 750 contemporary sculptures, 120 artworks on paper and 25 examples of historical material collected from approximately 30 northern communities — including influential artistic centres such as Kinngait (Cape Dorset), Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake) and Inujjuaq (Inujjuaq/Port Harrison), as well as Talurjuaq (Taloyoak/Spence Bay), Naujaat (Repulse Bay) and Kugluktuk (Coppermine).

The works, in a variety of materials and styles, strengthen the Museum’s existing collections while offering new perspectives on Inuit Nunagat through the eyes of important first- and second-generation Inuit artists from the 1950s to the 1980s. Dr. Hess kept meticulous records that will allow scholars to study Inuit artistic trends across region, gender and time.