Elizabeth Arey

Beaufort Delta
Primary Art Type: 

Artist Story

I’ve been sewing for as long as I can remember. When my mom was teaching my older sister how to sew, I was eagerly awaiting my turn! I learned all the basics from her. Growing up, she would give me whatever little projects I was able to do. As the years went by, I was fortunate enough to keep learning from all the amazing seamstresses in my community. Now, I can make all types of traditional clothing but I especially love making beaded slippers.

My dad is Gwich’in and my mom is Inuvialuit. My mother learned to bead from my dad’s sister. I think my slippers perfectly blend my Gwich’in and Inuvialuit culture. I also learned patterns from my late Naanak, who remains an important source of inspiration. It’s important for me to connect to my Ancestors and culture through my artwork. It gives me a sense of pride. It’s what we did for countless years! Although we can now buy our stuff at the store, it’s nice to have traditions to hold on to and to be able to share our knowledge with future generations.

I am inspired by the northern wild flowers that grow around our community. I think they are

beautiful, especially the small ones. Beading flower patterns allows me to stick to traditional designs while adding some modern details. Usually, flowers are beaded right in the centre of the upper, but I like to do half flowers, so that the background is at the centre of the upper instead. My inspiration came from seeing little chamomile and white daisies in autumn – half of their petals are fallen off, but they still hold colour and they are still really beautiful!

I love to sew with wild fur like beaver and fox because they are so luxurious! I especially love to work with ringed seal because they are found in the Tuktoyaktuk area. Working with seal is special to me. My Taatak (grandfather) was a trapper and my Naanak (grandmother) was working alongside him. They hunted seal to feed themselves and to feed their dogs. When I make clothing with seal, it gives me time to think about what my Ancestors did to survive.

Creating gives me a sense of peace and satisfaction. My art is something I can pour my love and soul into. I also naturally like to teach others. If I see someone with a love for sewing, I just want to help in any way I can to nurture that passion. I think that’s what all the other seamstresses in my community did for me. They nurtured that love of sewing, all while sharing their culture and traditions. It’s fascinating to me that you could give 100 women the same four colours of beads and a tiny piece of moose hide, and you would end up with 100 different designs! It is my dream that all the beaders and seamstresses of my community get to express their own unique creativity in this way.

Artist Bio: 

Elizabeth is a Gwich’in and Inuvialuit artist from Tuktoyaktuk. Elizabeth was taught to bead and sew by her mother, who learned from her mother, the well-known Inuvialuk seamstress, Alice Gruben. Elizabeth’s technical skills have also benefitted from working alongside other talented artists. 

Through Arctic Ocean Mocs, Elizabeth offers clients warm, cozy, and stylish slippers with intricately beaded uppers. Made from locally sourced sealskin, fox, and beaver, Elizabeth’s moccasins are based on a slipper pattern she inherited from her grandmother. Elizabeth’s beadwork, which features ice, snow, and flowers, is inspired by the beauty and bounty of nuna (the land). Her intricate beadwork is constantly evolving and always unique.

In addition to creating beautiful moccasins, Elizabeth is also keeping sewing traditions alive in her community by sharing her skills with the younger generation.

Elizabeth is currently participating in the EntrepreNorth Design Cohort, which helps women of the north grow their business, while networking and accessing support. Elizabeth is excited at the new opportunities presenting themselves through this eclectic and likeminded group of artists.

Elizabeth currently focuses on selling her artwork within her community, but her hope is to build a website where she can sell her products alongside other women’s work. In the meantime, Elizabeth plans to keep expanding her product inventory by making muskrat and otter fur slippers.

Last Updated: May 18, 2023

Artist Gallery