Thursday, April 21, 2005


Inuit art advocate James Houston dies

NEW LONDON, CONN. - Canadian artist James A. Houston, who helped introduce Inuit art and culture to the world during the 1950s and 1960s, has died.

Houston died Sunday at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London, Conn., the Day newspaper reported Wednesday. He was 83.

Born in Toronto in 1921, Houston began his study of art early on. At age 11, he studied with the Group of Seven's Arthur Lismer at what is now the Art Gallery of Ontario. He later studied at the Ontario College of Art.

After spending five years serving with the Toronto Scottish Regiment during the Second World War, Houston briefly studied in Paris before deciding to travel to the Canadian Arctic for artistic inspiration. He made his first contact with the Inuit in 1948, when they showed him their carvings. He lived among them for the next 14 years and became a civil administrator for west Baffin Island.

Houston became a major proponent of Inuit arts and culture, introducing stone, ivory and bone carvings created by local artists to the Canadian Guild of Crafts, the federal government, the Hudson's Bay Company and, eventually, the world.

In addition to creating glass and sculptural art, Houston was a documentary filmmaker and author of numerous award-winning novels and children's books about the Inuit people and their stories. His White Dawn was adapted for film in 1974.

For the last 43 years of his life, he worked as a designer at New York City's Steuben Glass Company, where he introduced the use of gold, silver and other precious metals into the company's glass sculptures.

In 1974, Houston was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada for acting as a representative of Inuit artists and craftspeople and, in 1997, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society awarded him its Massey Medal.

In 1981, Houston's son John opened the Houston North Gallery in Lunenburg, N.S. – the province where his mother, Houston's first wife, Alma, who was also an advocate of Inuit art, was born.

According to his wishes, Houston will be cremated, with half his remains to stay with his family in Stonington, Conn., and the other half scattered over the hills of Cape Dorset off Baffin Island.

A memorial celebration is scheduled for May 21 at Mystic Seaport, a historical museum region located 16 kilometres east of New London.

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