Confessions of an Igloo Dweller: Memories of the Old Arctic

Overview

This autobiographical narrative uniquely evokes the old days in the Arctic, when mail came to Baffin Island only once a year, on the icebreaker. In 1948 James Houston, a twenty-seven-year-old Canadian army veteran and art student, got an unexpected plane ride to the distant North. There he felt instantly at home with the smiling, utterly confident native people, who quickly accepted him as their friend. He lived among Inuit from 1948 to 1962, serving for part of that time as the civil administrator for West ...
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1st Edition, Fine/Fine Clean, bright & tight. No ink names, tears, chips, foxing etc. Price unclipped. Glossy 5" x 7" B/W photo of author laid in. ISBN 0395788900

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Overview

This autobiographical narrative uniquely evokes the old days in the Arctic, when mail came to Baffin Island only once a year, on the icebreaker. In 1948 James Houston, a twenty-seven-year-old Canadian army veteran and art student, got an unexpected plane ride to the distant North. There he felt instantly at home with the smiling, utterly confident native people, who quickly accepted him as their friend. He lived among Inuit from 1948 to 1962, serving for part of that time as the civil administrator for West Baffin Island, an area of 65,000 square miles. His major objective, though, was to encourage the natural abilities of Inuit artists and help them develop an Eskimo cooperative, which provided an essential connection to outlets in the South for their remarkable stone-block prints and stone sculptures.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A chance visit to the Arctic in 1948-when Canadian author-artist Houston (The White Dawn) was invited to fly with an aviator friend on a medical emergency at an isolated post-dictated his future for the next 14 years. Stirred by the endless white landscape and the engaging warmth of the Inuits, he connived to return as a Northern Service officer and eventually became the first administrator of western Baffin Island. An artist himself, he recognized the artistry of the people in their carvings and drawings, and became a major force in bringing them to worldwide popularity. He introduced the Inuits to printing and money, oddities they had not known. In turn, they introduced him to their cooperative society, taught him their hunting skills and shared their food, stories and ways of living. His memories of those years, written with a modesty that belies his own accomplishments, peoples the Canadian Arctic with unique individuals and describes a mode of life that, for better or worse, he himself did much to change. Illustrations by the author. (Apr.)
Jennifer Henderson
From 1948 to 1962, Canadian artist-writer James Houston lived among Inuit residents of Arctic Quebec. (He uses the term "Inuit" rather than "Eskimo," which has recently fallen out of favor.) He was one of the first white men to appreciate the value of Inuit carvings and initiated a program to gather, sell, and display in galleries the ivory, antler, whalebone, and stone artifacts. All along, he promoted the carvings and native printmaking as industries for improving the Inuit economy. His "confessions" are really recollections about his activities on both sides of Hudson Bay and Baffin Island. Often accompanied by his wife, he took dogsled treks, built and slept in igloos, hunted walrus, and climbed a frozen waterfall. Sprinkled in the text are 40 of his drawings, which illustrate such commonly used items as a seal-oil lamp, copper-mine ulu, and goose-wing brush. Reading Houston's memoirs, you become inspired by his joy at living in and learning about the Canadian Arctic.
Kirkus Reviews
Tender, anecdotal glimpses of life in the far Canadian north at mid-20th century, from a prolific novelist (Running West, 1990, etc.) and artist.

Houston headed to the land of the Inuit on a whim (he simply hopped a plane north) and a prayer. He was clueless as to Inuit language and custom, untutored as to surviving in the austere landscape, but thunderstruck by the beauty of the place. When he was given a couple of small Inuit stone carvings in exchange for portraits he had drawn, a light flickered on in his skull: He would become a dealer in Inuit artwork, selling carvings as well as prints (the Inuit had always been skilled carvers and began making prints in the 1950s), and thus earn his meal ticket to the Arctic—and, not incidentally, earn a boodle for the artists at the same time. From 1948 to 1962 he traveled extensively throughout the territory, bartering for art while sampling and celebrating the Inuit way of life: dog-sledding, walrus hunting, navigating through a whiteout, the customary roll in the hay with his friend's wife, the architecture of the igloo, the beauties of a native kayak ("the early slanting sunlight made the kayak partly transparent, showing its inner ribs in a golden glow"). Framed in a series of quick, chatty vignettes, these tales of Houston's rambles and the life he builds in the far north are warm and avuncular, and they have the feel of performance art; you don't so much read the book as listen to it being told. There are moments when he strikes a discordantly quaint tone (when he fell in the water: "It was nippy!"; the airplanes are primitive, with "none of that newfangled stuff"), but for the most part, Houston's natural storytelling talents shine from the page.

Sheer entertainment, as fascinating as it is charming.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395788905
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/16/1996
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.35 (w) x 9.33 (h) x 1.17 (d)

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