How I stumbled upon a work of art in Greenland

I have a poor eye for art. But in this case it fell into my lap, so to speak.

Bob Strong/Reuters/File
An iceberg floats near a harbor in the town of Kulusuk, East Greenland, in summer.
Courtesy of Robert Klose
Susanne’s art, drawn in crayon in Robert Klose’s journal on his trip to Greenland in 2014.

I have only one small piece of original art in my home, but I do have my fair share of kitsch – a ceramic frog sponge-holder, a slate shingle with a hand-painted largemouth bass, a statuette of an Icelandic troll, and a crudely hand-carved wall hanging of a moose titled “Maine.”

I don’t consider this a failing. I long ago made peace with having a poor eye for art, especially art of the modern ilk. But in the company of friends who consider themselves art mavens, I have learned to nod sagely when looking at a pile of broken dishes titled “Flight” and utter, “Very interesting.”

Be that as it may, not long ago, I unexpectedly came into an art piece that has become my pride and joy. 

It was like this:

Two summers back I took a trip to Greenland. Because it was different. Because I knew it wouldn’t be crowded. And because I wanted to visit the Viking ruins, which have fascinated me since childhood.

I caught a flight out of Iceland and landed on Greenland’s southern tip to mercifully balmy weather. Then I traveled by boat up a breathtaking fjord, along which the Vikings had settled. Greenland is otherworldly, so much so that, seeing it for the first time – with its muscular mountains, drifting icebergs, and endless expanses of boreal nothingness – it was difficult for me to grasp that such a place really exists.

My first stop was a settlement called Igaliku. It was the Greenlandic trifecta of my dreams: different, uncrowded (pop. 55), and sporting Viking ruins. What more could I ask for?

I found a bed in a small hostel at the edge of the fjord. Other guests included some native Greenlanders: two grandmotherly Inuit women and three children. The children, two boys and a girl, were all around 5 years old. That evening, at dinner time, I went into the common kitchen and found them eating together. I introduced myself and found that one of the women spoke some English. 

I felt comfortable asking them questions: Where were they from? Were these their grandchildren? How do you say “Thank you” in their language? Qujanaq (GOY-ee-nak). They seemed happy to oblige me. It turned out that the women were social workers from a settlement on the other side of the fjord and the children were three of their charges. I asked if I could take a few pictures for my travelogue. The smiling response – “Aap” (Yes).

The thing is, the children saw this as an opportunity for play and began to climb all over me and reach for my camera, which I tried to hold out of reach, to little avail. Little Susanne – a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl with the loveliest native features – was the most curious, and insistent. I finally arrived at an accommodation with her: I let her examine the camera as she sat in my lap. I took advantage of the lull to open my journal and jot a few notes. Without warning, Susanne produced a set of crayons, grabbed the journal, and began to scribble in it.

One of the women interceded on my behalf. I could tell from her tone that she was scolding the child. When she moved to take Susanne by the arm, however, I gestured for her not to. “Please,” I said. “Let her draw. What you see is a mischievous kid, but what I see is genuine Greenlandic art.”

And so we all hung fire for the next five minutes or so, while Susanne indulged her creativity. “Qujanaq,” I said once she was done, and she beamed.

That’s how I came into my one piece of original artwork, which hangs proudly on the wall. When visitors pause to admire it, I remark, “I find this artist very mischievous, don’t you?”

And my guests wonder at my sagacity.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to How I stumbled upon a work of art in Greenland
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/The-Home-Forum/2017/0125/How-I-stumbled-upon-a-work-of-art-in-Greenland
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe