A-Z of Places / Ingrid Vang Nyman 100

Ingrid Vang Nyman’s Inuit Summer

T is for Thule, Greenland.

As I impatiently wait for the second volume of Pippi Longstocking comics to come out, I thought I’d dig a little further into the back catalogue of the artistic genius behind them, Ingrid Vang Nyman.

Having completed the first Pippi book in 1945, Vang Nyman teamed up with her cousin Pipaluk Freuchen to create Ivik the Fatherless, later published in the UK as Eskimo Boy. Pipaluk was the daughter of the famous Arctic explorer Peter Freuchen (surely the inspiration for Pippi’s pirate father) and his Inuit wife Navarana Mequpaluk. Until the age of 12 she was raised amongst the Greenland Inuit at Thule, one of the world’s most northernmost towns.

Peter had already written a number of books on the lives of the Inuit, which were adapted into the gritty MGM movie Eskimo in 1933 (in which he also starred). Although writing for a younger audience than her father, Pipaluk also remained true to the harsh existence of the Inuit people. The book has an almost documentary feel, its stories read as if they’ve been written word for word from first hand accounts.

It’s shockingly vivid for a children’s book. In the opening chapter Ivik sets out full of pride on his first hunting expedition with his father.

But it all ends in disaster when an encounter with a walrus goes horribly wrong. ‘The walrus has already driven its tusks into his father’s back. His father does not scream; strangely enough he looks as though he were laughing aloud. That look must be from pain Ivik knows. Now his father’s face disappears. The walrus drags him under. That is the last Ivik ever sees of his father.’

vkv-2200

Returning to his family shattered but stoic, Ivik forgets to secure his kayak. As they wail in the igloo it washes out to sea, leaving his family cut off from the rest of their community on the mainland. He is left as their sole provider, and embarks on a rites of passage that takes him through starvation, desperation and eventual salvation as Ivik faces a polar bear on the ice.

Ingrid Vang Nyman isn’t the first artist you’d associate with this sort of grittily realistic adventure. She’s a Modernist and often deliberately un-lifelike. Her work on Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi stories is full of movement, peculiar perspective and vivid flat colour. Ivik on the other hand is rendered in black and white and for the most part deals with the travails of a family huddled in an igloo growing weak from starvation.

But Vang Nyman takes every effort to get her subject matter right, studying animals at the zoo and carefully researching different cultures at the ethnographic collections of the National Museum in Copenhagen. Some of this can be seen in the later adventures of Pippi on one of her visits to Canny Canny Island.

The detailed research is showcased in several pages which lay out the various hunting methods of the Inuit. We learn exactly the best way to kill, skin, cook and eat foxes, seals, bears and anything else that’s unfortunate to come into contact with the Inuit.

Meat is almost a character in itself. It consumes most of Ivik’s thoughts and his family use every last part, dressing in it, using it as fuel and eating it raw, cooked, and even rotten. There are some unflinching scenes of slaughter and butchery that will make readers old and young think again about where their meat comes from.

Readers of Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother will find much to enjoy here – as that book also begins with the death of the hero’s father and ends with a thrilling fight with a bear. But there’s a strange sort of heroism at play in Eskimo Boy. Ivik, although driven by a need to prove himself and save his family, faces the creature in desperation. Killing large animals is not particularly thrilling, it’s a dirty, messy business.

This was Vang Nyman and Freuchen’s only book together, but the illustrator created many more wonderful scenes from Greenland that are full of the same playfulness that defined her work on Pippi. These full colour pieces were published posthumously as Människornas land (Summertime). I’ve not been able to afford a copy, but from what I’ve seen the story by Franz Berliner is much lighter, following the adventures of a younger group of Inuit children.

Interestingly Summertime was based on Ingrid Vang Nyman’s illustrations, rather than the other way around. It makes me wonder whether there are any other sets of her ethnographic painting sitting in an archive, just waiting for a story to accompany them. What an amazing privilege that would be for a writer…

6 thoughts on “Ingrid Vang Nyman’s Inuit Summer

  1. Pingback: Pippi Fixes Everything | tygertale

  2. My heart settles a slight bit knowing someone is appreciating these works and pursuing the thought of their well being. It is quite strange, however, to think these works will soon be in my hands, as a few already are. To condense my story, Ingrid Van Nyman was my great aunt; when she passed, her estate was left to my grandfather, whom I am extremely close with. Just today I stumbled upon an portfolio in my mother’s house as I visit for the holidays, filled with several original ethnic drawings from around the world. My curiosity persuaded me to do more research on her work, that I grew up amongst and it saddens me to think she may fade away, forgotten. If you would like to talk more about her work, I would love to be afforded the opportunity to give her lost works some publicity.

    • Dear Sera,
      I have stumbled upon your comment quite by chance in my endeavours to search for potential new information about Ingrid Vang Nyman around the web. I work as an assistant at the Danish art museum Vejen Kunstmuseum, which houses a larger collection of works by Ingrid Vang Nyman. The 21. August we will be opening our second exhibition on IVN, this time a big retrospective exhibition in honour of what would have been her 100th year birthday.
      I was wondering if you by any chance know what kind of material has been left to you grandfather? Letters, sketches, prints etc would be of great interest in our quest to further the knowledge of Ingrid Vang Nymans life.
      I hope you’ll see this message and get in contact with me – email: museum@vejen.dk
      Kind Regards
      Sasha Andersen

      • Thanks for leaving this message Sasha, I’d love to hear more about your exhibition and any new information on her life and work – big fan of IVN.

      • Hi,
        Sorry about the late response – was awfully busy with setting up the exhibition and then I couldn’t find my paper with the name of your blog. The exhibition is a retrospective in light of her 100-year birthday on 21st of August. It features over a 100 sketches that are in the museum’s collection along with some Pippi sketches borrowed from Saltkråkan AB – the company that was owned by the Astrid Lindgren. We will also soon feature original drawings from a couple of other children’s books she illustrated ‘Pyret och Piff planterar’ and ‘Jugge Jagge och Vagge Vugge’. Along with lots of pieces highlighting her skills as an illustrator there are paintings and ceramics as well as several monumental busts on display. There are also three videos made specifically for this exhibition on three aspects of her life as well as a book was published coinciding with the exhibition, but which very much is an independent book on her production seen from a Danish perspective. Unfortunately both of the latter are only available in Danish at the moment. It is likely that the videos will get English subtitles in the near future, however I cannot say when or indeed if the book will ever be available in English.
        The exhibition is at Vejen Art Museum and runs till the 19. March 2017 (you can maybe get a bit more information about it on our website – it’s in Danish, but google translate should be able to handle some of it at least – a new site is under construction, but do to the immense size of our website and limited funds it will be a while before its all available in English. http://Www.vejenkunstmuseum.dk or http://vejenkunstmuseum.dk/Dansk/udstillinger/ingrid/ivn_pippifravejen.html

        Let me know if you have any questions🙂

      • Thank you so much for the information – it looks like a fantastic exhibition. I have already ordered a copy of ‘Pyret och Piff planterar’, which I will feature on the blog sometime soon. Couldn’t track down a copy of ‘Jugge Jagge och Vagge Vugge’ though, would love to see some images from that. I don’t think I’ll be coming to Denmark before the exhibition closes, but good luck with it.

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