I have two different types of work: my own and what I can make a living on, the stereotypical Inuit art. I feel torn between these two worlds.
From artist statement in Inuit Art Quarterly, Summer 1991, p.22.
Gilbert Hay was born in North West River, Labrador, in 1951, and was raised in Nain on the northern coast. In 1971, he moved to Edmonton where he studied art and practiced carving, selling his sculpture and graphic work through The Eskimo Arts Shop.
Hay returned to Nain in the mid-seventies and began carving using soapstone, ivory, whale bone, antler and labradorite. In 1975, printmaker Bill Ritchie arrived in Nain and together they opened a community craft centre, catering to the tourist and collector market.
In 1983, Hay went to St. Michael's Printshop in St. John's, to work with Ritchie and other Newfoundland printmakers. In March 1991 he received a scholarship from the Banff Centre for the Arts to participate in a five week seminar on neo-mythology. Contact with international artists in Banff expanded Hay's thoughts about art and the process of art making.
For Hay, carving is not only a source of income but an integral part of his cultural heritage. When he creates art Hay feels as though he is practicing his culture. His work reflects changes to the Inuit lifestyle, and he has contributed ink illustrations to a textbook about the Inuit way of life published by the Labrador East Integrated School Board.
In 1985, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador commissioned one of Hay's largest sculptures, titled Nuikkusemajak, ("has visited"). This serpentine sculpture is uncommonly large for its soapstone medium, weighing approximately one ton. It is presently displayed in the lobby of the Confederation Building annex in St. John's.
In addition to being part of the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador's Permanent Collection, Hay's art work is represented in many private and public collections including those of the McMichael Canadian Collection, the Province of Ontario and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador.