Darlene Coward Wight was surprised to learn she would be receiving an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Manitoba.
Coward Wight, who has been the curator of Inuit art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery since 1986, received an honorary doctorate of letters at the U of M’s fall convocation ceremony on Oct. 17.
Coward Wight said when the university’s president phoned her to let her know she’d be receiving the degree, her first response was to say she didn’t deserve it.
"I was totally amazed and surprised and pleased," she said.
"It’s very exciting to finally have a doctorate, because (after I got my master’s degree), I never got a chance to go further. It was very hard to do a PhD in Inuit studies in the early 80s."
Coward Wight said because her work involves a lot of research, writing and "behind the scenes stuff," most people don’t know what she does. She said it’s nice to be honoured in a public way.
"It’s quite amazing to be spotlighted, to have an honour like this that is very visible," Coward Wight said.
The Richmond West resident has given lectures across North America and has curated 76 exhibitions, some of which have toured as far as Italy and Monaco. She’s also been published in numerous journals and magazines, and has written 20 exhibition catalogues. Her latest work, Creation & Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art will be launched Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at McNally Robinson Booksellers at Grant Park Shopping Centre.
Helen Delacretaz, the WAG’s chief curator, said gallery staff were thrilled to learn about Coward Wight’s honourary degree.
"(Coward Wight) very much deserves (the honorary doctorate). She’s just been so dedicated to (her work). Her exhibitions are always research-oriented and they always have new material and new ideas," she said.
Delacretaz said Coward Wight is one of the world’s major foremost experts in Inuit art and it’s largely due to her efforts the WAG is home to the largest collection of contemporary art anywhere. Almost half of the WAG’s permanent collection is Inuit sculptures, prints, drawings, ceramics and textiles.
"(Coward Wight) has really put the WAG on the map for Inuit art, whether it’s through her publications and exhibitions and the touring of (them) around the country and internationally, or the exposure she’s given the art that has prompted really prominent collectors and donors to build our collection to the point it is today," she said.
"I can think of a number of major collections that have come here from collectors who know the WAG is the place to leave (the art) because they know we’ll promote it, take care of it, explore it — and that’s largely because of (Coward Wight’s) work."