Miķelis Pankoks (1894–1983) was a scultor, carpenter, fisherman, autodidact with a parish school education. He was born in the family of a fisherman in “Veckupši” at Jūrmalciems. A memorial stone is installed there. During his life, he created more than 700 unique works expressing unlimited fantasy in them. Some of his workcan be seen in the Liepāja History Museum.
As a child Miķelis joined his father in the sea but did not feel happy. Everything changed when he found himself in woodworking and swore to dedicate his life to art. Miķelis’s first carving was “a woman on the seashore.”
Miķelis graduated from the Rūce School in Paipu village but has always tried to expand his knowledge by self-study, reading various books on health care, on the structure of the universe. Also, he learned to speak English.
In 1919, in his youth, M. Pankoks, together with other guys from Jūrmalciems, joined the military service. First, he took part in the battles to defend Liepāja, but then followed the battles of the liberation of Latvia on the Latgale front, where Miķelis was saved from death by only a few tree stumps. In 1920, Pankoks said goodbye to the front and was sent to paramedic courses at the Riga War Hospital, where he gained knowledge in the field of medicine.
In 1924, Pankoks tried to enter the Latvian Academy of Arts, but the attempt was unsuccessful, because he did not have basic drawing skills. So Miķelis continued to live in Jūrmalciems in ascetic solitude and devoted himself to sculpture. The father was not happy with his son’s passion, believed that it was just a hobby and you cannot make a living. Others also bantered about Miķelis. Everything changed after Miķelis’s first exhibition in 1925 at Nīca church tavern. After it, the sculptor gained the respect and reverence of both his father and the surrounding villagers. His mother, Maiga Pankoka had always believed in her son and was also delighted with her son’s success. He organized exhibitions in several cities of Latvia and became more and more recognized.
In October 1944, when there was the war in Jūrmalciems, Miķelis Pankoks was last seen in his native village. For many years, everyone thought that he was missing. It was only in 1991 that information about his long life devoted to art in Germany was obtained. He stayed in German refugee camps, and later, upon detection of schizophrenia, a European aid organization placed him in a Swiss clinic. There he spent the remaining 32 years of his life, still making wooden forms. Flowers and birds are one of the recurring themes in his work.
On January 8, 1983, at the age of 89, Miķelis Pankoks died and was buried in Switzerland, in the common grave of the cemetery area of the Ruhr.
More about Miķelis Pankoks on the Liepaja Museum website.