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Designer James Houston Dies; Created Inuit-Inspired Art

Associated Press
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page B05

James A. Houston, 83, an artist who brought an appreciation of Inuit art to audiences around the world while he lived in the Canadian Arctic in the 1950s and '60s, died April 17 at a hospital in New London, Conn. No cause of death was reported.

Mr. Houston was a master designer at the renowned Steuben Glass Co. in New York City, where he worked for the past 43 years. He became the first designer to be honored by Steuben with a major retrospective exhibit in 1992.


James Houston's best-known works include the sculpture "Arctic Fisherman," which shows an Inuit hunter trying to catch fish. (B Y David Duprey -- AP)

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Among his best-known works were "Arctic Fisherman," a sculpture showing an Inuit fisherman preparing to spear a fish in the water, and "Trout & Fly," in which a fish leaps to catch a gold fly.

Mr. Houston introduced the use of gold, silver and other precious metals to Steuben's glass sculptures.

"Realizing a connection between glass and ice was of huge importance to me and set me on Nature's trail," Mr. Houston wrote in the preface to "The Arctic Fisherman," a limited-edition book from Steuben.

This year, Steuben released new works by Mr. Houston. The $18,000 sculptures are of two bonefish encased in a block of glass, with their tails breaking the surface as they dive for a fisherman's fly.

Mr. Houston wrote numerous adult and children's books on the Inuit people and stories. His novel "White Dawn" was turned into a 1974 film starring Louis Gossett Jr. and Warren Oates.

He and his wife, Alice, lived part of the year in Stonington, Conn. They also had a home in New York City, and a fishing and writing retreat in Queen Charlotte Islands in British Columbia.

Mr. Houston, who was born in Toronto in 1921, grew up being inspired by nature.

He first met the Inuit people in 1948 on a sketching trip to the Canadian Arctic. They showed him their carvings. He ended up living among them for 14 years.

Mr. Houston once described the first time he saw the Arctic to a New London reporter: "I looked around at the barren rocks and tundra with the few tents graying with age and weighted down against the wind, and I took in the steel-blue sea and the biggest ice that I had ever seen and then the tanned, smiling people. I could scarcely breathe.

"I thought: This is the place that I've been looking for and now I've found it. I'm here!" he said.

His work helped expose Inuit art to the world for the first time.

In 1974, he was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada for his role in representing the interests of Inuit artists and artisans. In 1992, he was chosen as one of the 125 most influential Canadians in the country's history.

Survivors include his wife and two sons.


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