Eskimo Escapades : Introducing Youngsters to ‘People of the Snow’ Right in an Irvine Park

If the kids have been clamoring for a little kilaujatut, load ‘em up in the family komatik and head for “Igloos of Fun,” the Irvine Fine Arts Center ninth annual Youth Art Day. But you had better leave the aiverk at home.

If by chance you don’t speak Inutitut, the language of the Inuit Eskimo, those exotic-sounding words mean, respectively, drum dancing, sled and walrus --not exactly part of the average county schoolchild’s vocabulary.

But on Saturday, the Inuit come to Irvine. Well, sort of. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., children ages 3 to 10 can sample the lighter side of life among these hardy “people of the snow” in a day of art workshops, entertainment and games on the center’s grounds in Heritage Park.

The children’s festival coincides with four Eskimo-themed exhibits on display at the center through April 28. They are “Inuit Games: Traditional Sport and Play of the Eskimo,” a collection of stone-cut prints and soapstone sculpture by Eskimo artists that depict games of skill and endurance; artifacts of the Bering Sea Eskimos from Bowers Museum’s permanent collection, and “The Grandparents of My Gloves,” a retrospective by Berkeley dancer Patricia Bulitt, which features costumes, recordings and mixed-media remembrances of Bulitt’s 10-year cultural exchange with Eskimos.


Bulitt recently shared her experiences with teachers from the Irvine Unified School District. District teachers passed on the lesson to their students, who interpreted their studies in a series of drawings, poetry and clay sculptures displayed at the center’s gallery. (A drawing by Culverdale School student Mike Jazayeri sums up the children’s cross-cultural experience with a decidedly California flair: The Alaskan god of summer, a six-armed figure, wears sunglasses and clutches a hot dog, an ice cream cone and a Beach Boys album.)

Docent tours of the exhibits will be offered through the day.

Saturday’s festivities center on seven, hourlong art workshops and several Eskimo games that will introduce children to the culture, said Jill Stute, the center’s special events coordinator.

“The Inuit used games as a means of developing strength and manual dexterity,” Stute said. “Theirs was a harsh way of life, and some of their games were very physically taxing. The kids can see those tougher games in the exhibit, and on the day of the festival they’ll get hands-on experience with games like Eskimo yo-yos and bean-bag juggling.”


In addition, Stute said, Dori Kirk Fitzgerald, the center’s curator of exhibitions, will lead children in an authentic Eskimo hunting dance taught to her by Bullitt, and storytellers will share traditional tales of the Eskimo.

Irvine’s balmy weather is a far cry from the Eskimo’s chilly climate, so a snow machine will provide a frosting of real snow on the center’s lawn. The snow will fall at 11 a.m. Depending on the weather, it should last about an hour, Stute said.

Art workshops will begin at 10 a.m. In “Magical Masks,” children 6 and older will create masks based on Arctic animals. “Snow Prints” introduces youngsters to a variation on Eskimo-style block printing. In “Charms and Spells,” children will learn how good-luck charms and magic spells helped the Eskimo succeed in the hunt, then create their own charms in clay.

“Arctic Antics” is a collaborative project in which small groups will create clay scenes of Eskimo life, which will be fired and later displayed in the center’s gallery.


“Go Fish” will be geared for children ages 3 to 5. In it, children will learn about fish as a staple in the Eskimo diet, then design and decorate their own fish from a grab bag of art materials. In the “Drawing and Painting Expedition,” children will hear tales of the Eskimo hunt, then depict their impressions in mixed media. “It’s Snowing” will let young artists create snow by drawing Arctic scenes, then applying a solution of epsom salts that form snowlike crystals on the paper.

Two drop-in workshops--"Arctic Mural,” in which youngsters will contrast their life style with the Eskimo’s on two large murals, and “Build Your Own Igloo,” a construction project of fair-weather igloos of cardboard and paint--will be offered throughout the day. Face-painting will also be available for a small fee.

In the center’s courtyard, such local entertainers as the Lori Hansen Dancers, the Rainbow Singers and Sky Badger, an American Indian who tells folk stories, will be presented. Food will be sold from 11 a.m.

Youth Art day will be Saturday at the Irvine Fine Arts Center, 14321 Yale Ave. in Irvine’s Heritage Park. Attendance is open to the entire family. Children under 6 must be accompanied by an adult. Walk-in registration will begin at 9 a.m. Registration fee is $9 per child and includes two 1-hour workshops, both drop-in workshops and all entertainment and games. Adults are free. Information: (714) 552-1019.