One of the most extensive collections of Eskimo folk art is right here in Richmond. 

Into Inuit

Art collectors and aficionados interested in Inuit works would hardly think of the old capital of the South as the place to find such a collection. Yet the West End is home to one of the most extensive and elaborate galleries of Nova Scotia Eskimo folk art known as Inuit art. Judith Varney Burch has transformed her Richmond home into a gallery that displays Inuit sculptures, tapestries and the like. A guesthouse in the back houses paintings and sculptures. Even her yard is adorned with inuksuk — stone figures loosely resembling human shapes that served the Inuit people as spiritual as well as geographic navigators. "In the North, there are no trees. The only thing you see is an inuksuk," Burch explains. Since the Arctic is above the tree line, the Inuit don't use wood — most of their sculptures are crafted from stone or marble. An expert in Inuit art, Burch was introduced to it more than 20 years ago when her family visited Nova Scotia as a way to beat the Richmond heat in the summer. "To stay in Richmond in August is like begging for cholera," she says. "I wanted my children to know [of] other places than Richmond. When we first went to Nova Scotia, we had some money and bought a house in a little fishing village [with a] two-hole outhouse." She fell in love with simple life in the village, and with the grace and beauty of the inhabitants' handmade sculptures. As she and her husband grew older, she jokes, they could afford a house with bathrooms. Since then, they've been splitting their time between their homes in Richmond and Canada. Burch began collecting pieces more than 15 years ago, bringing works with her when she returned to Richmond. She purchases many of the items herself, but her involvement in the Inuit community has led many of the local artists to donate pieces of their own collection to add to hers. "They'll say, 'This was my grandmother's and I want you to have it,'" she says. Some of the pieces in her collection can get quite expensive. Most pieces cost anywhere from $150 to $16,000. Despite the hefty price tag, there are plenty of buyers interested in the artwork found in Burch's gallery. People come from nearby Charlottesville and Williamsburg, and as far away as Vancouver and overseas to admire the collection. Ironically, some Canadian buyers have commented that they find her gallery better than most back home. "When I have a piece, I sell it and that's it," she says, explaining that she doesn't make much of a profit from the sales. "Some of the things I'll eventually give to a museum," she says. "The artifacts and tools I won't sell." Besides her own galleries in Richmond and at her Nova Scotia home, she is curator of the Inuit exhibits at the Canadian Embassy and has lectured at various events at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. But for Burch, her work is her pleasure. "I'm lucky to be doing what I'm

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