HOUSTON, James




Author Tags: Art, Fiction, First Nations, Haida Gwaii

James Houston, born in Toronto in 1918, was the author of many bestselling books, including Eagle Song: An Indian Saga Based on True Events (1983), for which he consulted the journal of John R. Jewitt, the Englishman who was captured by Nuu-chah-nulth Chief Maquinna in 1803. Among his many books for children are Eagle Mask: A West Coast Indian Tale (1966) and Ghost Paddle: A Northwest Coast Indian Tale (1972). He adapted his own novel The White Dawn (1983) for a screenplay that was the basis for a movie from Paramount Pictures. Other novels include Spirit Wrestler (1980) and Ghost Fox (1971). One of her earlier ethnographic titles was Songs of the Dream People: Chants and Images From the Indians and Eskimos of North America (1972).

Houston maintained a home in the Queen Charlotte Islands, but he was not widely recognized as a B.C. author. Each summer, he and his wife Alice opened up their old green cottage on Graham Island, where the Tlell River flowed 20 feet away from their window. It was a long way from his other home in Connecticut, or Toronto where he was raised and studied at the Ontario College of Art, or Manhattan where he designed glassware for Steuben. James Houston served in World War II with the Toronto Scottish Regiment from 1940-1945, studied art in France, worked as an artist at Grand’Mère, Quebec and spent 14 years learning from the Inuit after first visiting the Canadian Eastern Arctic in 1948. Houston’s memoir Hideaway: Life on the Queen Charlotte Islands (1999) reflects his affinity for indigenous peoples—from the deserted village of Ninstints to the manners of neighbours such as Teddy Bellis, a friend who likes to offer big-city guests a snack of smoked dog salmon.

James Houston O.C., D. Litt., D.H.L., D.F.A., F.R.S.A. will likely be best remembered for promoting the art of the Inuit after he became the first civil administrator of west Baffin Island and he introduced printmaking to the Inuit in Cape Dorset. He died in 2005.

Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
Hideaway: Life on the Queen Charlotte Islands

BOOKS FOR CHILDREN:

Akavak: An Eskimo Journey. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ont.: Longmans Canada, 1968.
75 p.: ill.; 22 cm.

L'Archer blanc: une légende esquimaude. Written and illustrated by James Houston; translated by Maryse Côté. Montréal: Éditions Héritage, 1978.
93 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0777341034
(French edition of The White Archer: An Eskimo Legend)

Black Diamonds: A Search for Arctic Treasure. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982.
170 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0771042477

Les Casse-cou de la rivière Koksoak. Written and illustrated by James Houston; translated by Claude Aubry. Montréal: Fides, 1984.
167 p.: ill.; 21 cm. (Collection des Mille île)
ISBN 2762112346
(French edition of River Runners)

Drifting Snow: An Arctic Search. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1992.
150 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0771042833

Eagle Mask: A West Coast Indian Tale. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ont.: Longmans Canada, 1966.
63 p.: ill.; 22 cm.

The Falcon Bow: An Arctic Legend. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1986.
94 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0771042523

First Came the Indians. Written by M.J. Wheeler; illustrated by James Houston. New York: Atheneum, 1983.
32 p.: col. ill.; 24 cm.
ISBN 0689502583

Frozen Fire: A Tale of Courage. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
149 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0771042493
ISBN 0771042442 (pbk.)

Ghost Paddle: A Northwest Coast Indian Tale. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ont.: Longman Canada, 1972.
55 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0771042558
ISBN 077104254X (pbk.)

Ice Swords: An Undersea Adventure. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1985.
149 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0771042558
ISBN 077104254X (pbk.)

Kiviok's Magic Journey: An Eskimo Legend. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ontario: Longman Canada, 1973.
39 p.: col. ill.; 27 cm. (A Margaret K. McElderry Book)
ISBN 0774701307

Long Claws: An Arctic Adventure. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1981.
31 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0771042566

Matt et Kayak: une aventure du Grand Nord. Written by James Houston; translated by Léo Lack and Robert Fouques Duparc; illustrated by Christophe Rouil. Paris: Stock, 1986.
185 p.: ill.; 17 cm. (Le Livre de poche jeunesse)
ISBN 2253038229
(French edition of Frozen Fire)

Le Passage des loups. Written and illustrated by James Houston; translated by Anne-Marie Chapouton. Paris: Flammarion, 1980.
14 p.: ill.; 17 cm. (Castor poche Flammarion)
ISBN 2081617161
(French edition of Wolf Run: A Caribou Eskimo Tale)

River Runners: A Tale of Hardship and Bravery. Written and illustrated by James Houston. New York, Toronto: Puffin Books, 1992, c1979.
142 p.: ill.; 20 cm.
ISBN 014036093X

Tikta'liktak: An Eskimo Legend. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ont.: Longmans Canada, 1965.
63 p.: ill.; 21 cm.

Tikta'liktak: légende esquimaude. Written and illustrated by James Houston; translated by Maryse Côté. Montréal: Éditions Héritage, 1978.
67 p.: ill.; 22 cm.
ISBN 0777330156
(French edition of Tikta'liktak: An Eskimo Legend)

The White Archer: An Eskimo Legend. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills Ont.: Longmans Canada, 1967.
95 p.: illus.; 22 cm.

Whiteout. Written by James Houston. Toronto: General Paperbacks, 1991, c1988.
175 p.: map; 18 cm.
ISBN 0773673458

Wolf Run: A Caribou Eskimo Tale. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ont.: Longman Canada, 1971.
64 p.: ill.; 21 cm.

BOOKS FOR ADULTS:

L'Art esquimau au Canada. Design and layout by James Houston; photographs by Bert Beaver and the National Film Board. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1971, c1963.
40 p.: ill.; 27 cm.
(French edition of Canadian Eskimo Art)
Art of the Eskimos. Morges, Switzerland: World Wildlife Fund, 1977.
1 portfolio: ill.; 77 cm.
("The Eskimos and their Art" by James Houston: leaf 1)

L'Aube blanche: roman. Written by James Houston. Translated by Léo Lack. Montréal: HMH, 1972.
378 p.; 22 cm.
(French edition of The White Dawn)

Canadian Eskimo Art. Design and layout by James Houston; photographs by Bert Beaver and the National Film Board. Ottawa: Information Canada, 1971, 1964.
40 p.: ill.; 26 cm.

Confessions of an Igloo Dweller. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1996, c1995.
xiii, 320 p.: ill.; 23 cm.
ISBN 0771042868

Eagle Song: An Indian Saga Based on True Events. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1983.
362 p.: ill.; 25 cm.
ISBN 0771042582 (bound)
ISBN 0771042574 (pbk.)

Eskimo Graphic Art: 1964-1965 = L'art graphique des esquimaux. Written by James Houston. Ottawa: 1965.
40 p.: ill.; 13 cm.

Eskimo Handicrafts. Written and illustrated by James Houston; translated by Sam Ford and Frederica Woodrow. Montreal: Canadian Handicrafts Guild and the Department of Resources and Development, 1951.
30 p.: ill.; 20 cm.

Eskimo Prints. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Barre, Massachusetts: Barre Publishing, 1967.
10 p.: ill. (part col.); 22 x 27 cm.

Ghost Fox. Written by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1977.
xii, 302 p.: map; 24 cm.
ISBN 077104240X

Ojibwa Summer. Written by James Houston; photographs by B.A. King. Don Mills, Ont.: Longman Canada, 1972.
96 p.: ill.; 29 cm.
ISBN 082717246X

The Private Journal of Captain G.F. Lyon of H.M.S. Hecla, During the Recent Voyage of Discovery Under Captain Parry, 1821-1823. Written by G.F. Lyon; introduction and illustrations by James Houston. Barre, Massachusetts: Imprint Society, 1970.
xvii, 297 p.: ill.; 31 cm.
ISBN 0876360010

Running West. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1990, c1989.
320 p.: ill.; 18 cm.
ISBN 077104268X

Songs of the Dream People: Chants and Images From the Indians and Eskimos of North America. Edited and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ont.: Longman Canada, 1972.
83 p.: col. ill.; 22 cm.

Spirit Wrestler. Written by James Houston. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1982, c1980.
277 p.: 18 cm. (New Canadian Library)
ISBN 0771093241

The Unicorn Was There. Written by Elizabeth Pool; illustrated by James Houston. Barrie, Massachusetts: Barre Publishers, 1966.
62 p.: ill.; 21 cm.

The White Dawn: An Eskimo Saga. Written and illustrated by James Houston. Don Mills, Ont.: Academic Press Canada, 1983.
275 p.: ill.; 20 cm.
ISBN 0774701358

[LITHIS / BCBW 2003] "Art" "Fiction" "QCI" "First Nations"

The Ice Master (M&S $29.99)
Info



In the spring of 1875, two ships set sail from Connecticut, travelling together to the Baffin Island Arctic whaling grounds. One ship is skippered by a sea veteran, the other by a young Newfoundlander who is an expert in sailing through ice fields. Conflicts arise during their year-long stay with whale hunting Inuit on the shores of Baffin Island in James Houston's The Ice Master (M&S $29.99). A feud with a shaman and a voyage back to New England through a hurricane further complicates the challenges facing the two men in an era when whaling was North America's biggest business, and successful expeditions to the Arctic returned with whale oil that lit the lamps of the civilized world.
0 7710 4207 8

[BCBW 1997]


Zigzag: A Life On The Move (M&S $29.99)
Review



James Houston’s second volume of autobiography, Zigzag: A Life On The Move (M&S $29.99), begins as he leaves the Arctic to start a new life as a designer for Steuben Glass in New York. He has just spent 14 years working closely with the Inuit of the Arctic. [Houston is credited with discovering Inuit were producing great art and single-handedly creating a market for it. He also encouraged Inuit to adapt their work for North American buyers.] As he leaves Baffin Island, he receives two gifts from the Inuit: a carving of a walrus and a paperbag containing $33. “You’re going away, everyone says, to try and make more money,” they explain. “If at first you don’t have money in that foreign place, we thought to give some to you.”

The original purpose of Eskimo carvings was to bring luck and protection on hunting expeditions. Houston needs both luck and protection as he leaves a culture unconcerned with monetary gain (the market value of the walrus is $11,000) for one in which it is the be-all and end-all. In Manhattan in the 1960s, Houston at first has trouble adapting to the tyranny of clocks and schedules. Soon he becomes acclimatized and delights in the theatres, art shows, lavish parties and holidays on yachts where kings and presidents and Nelson Rockefeller casually drop by. Houston becomes a successful glass-designer, makes a fortune, teaches art in Harlem, becomes a successful writer, designs National Geographic’s centenary cover and even marries happily.

It is, however, the Arctic which inspires and nurtures Houston. “I am thrilled by the frosted, Arctic-like appearance of deep engravings on glass,” he says.
When the Glenbow Museum in Calgary asks him to design a sculpture, he creates his Aurora Borealis which is four storeys high. It is inspired by his memory of the spectacular ever-changing display of the Northern Lights. Either the protective qualities of the walrus carving or his years with the Inuit prevent him from succumbing completely to the glitzy life. He never confuses technological advances with civilization, nor economic gain with success.
The final pages of the book describe his life in a cabin on another island, one of the Queen Charlottes now known as the Haida Gwaii, where he now lives part of every year.

by Joan Givner