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James Archibald Houston, OC, D.Litt., FRSA, LL.D was an artist, designer, author and film-maker who played an important role in the recognition of Inuit art and introduced printmaking to the Inuit. The name "Saumik" was attributed to him by the Inuit, which means "the left handed one." He studied art as a child in Toronto with Arthur Lismer and was educated at the Ontario College of Art (1938–1940), and then the Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris (1947–1948) and in Japan (1958–1959) where he studied printmaking. He fought in World War II with the Toronto Scottish Regiment. In 1948, Houston travelled to a small Inuit community in Arctic Quebec, Inukjuak (then Port Harrison), to draw and paint the Inuit and the Arctic landscape. He traded his own drawings, done on the spot, with a small carving of a seated deer, by Neoamiluk. Houston recognized its aesthetic appeal and returned to the Canadian Handicrafts Guild, in Montreal, with roughly a dozen small carvings done mostly in steatite. The Guild, which had tried as early as the 1920s to foster an Inuit-handicrafts market, was impressed with the carving; they were equally impressed by the man, himself. The Guild secured a Federal Government grant of $1100 and sent Houston back north in the summer of 1949 to make bulk purchases in various communities in the eastern Arctic. When Houston returned to Montreal that fall, the Guild mounted their first exhibition of "Eskimo Carving". According to collector Ian Lindsay, the first exhibition was a complete sell-out. The Government put more resources into developing an art and handicrafts market in the Arctic, hiring Houston to live in Cape Dorset as the first "roving crafts officer", and tapping him to write promotional material for sales in the south. Fall sales exhibitions at the Guild became annual affairs, with lineups routinely stretching out the door and down the block. By the late 1950s, the Government had sponsored tours of Inuit art through Eastern and Western Europe, South America, and the Middle East. After successfully launching Inuit sculpture, Houston introduced printmaking in 1957, which met with the same success. Houston lived in Cape Dorset with his wife Alma Houston until 1962; when the couple split up, he moved to New York City and became Associate Director of Design with Steuben Glass. Until his death he continued to visit the Canadian north and Alaska on various projects, and lectured widely on Inuit and First Nations art and culture.

Born: 1921-06-12
Died: 2005-04-17