Saturday Art: Allan Houser
(Photo courtesy of Out of Chicago Photostream on flickr.com.)
One of our best regarded Native American artists, Allan Houser was descended from Geronimo and studied geography and the land before he realized his artistic abilities. A Chiricuhua Apache from Oklahoma, his work began as modernistic and developed to realistic portrayal of the people.
In 1939, Houser began his professional career by showing work at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the Golden Gate International Exposition. He received his first major public commission to paint murals at the Main Interior Building in Washington, DC. He also married Anna Maria Gallegos of Santa Fe, his wife for 55 years.
In 1940, he received another commission with the US. Department of Interior to paint life-sized indoor murals, then returned to Fort Sill to study with Swedish muralist Olle Nordmark, who encouraged Houser to explore sculpture. He made his first wood carvings that year.
Houser’s retirement in 1975 marked the beginning of the most prolific stage of his career. With time, materials, and the family compound in southern Santa Fe county, Houser honed the visual language that was to become his artistic legacy. Fusing Native subject matter with the abstract forms and sculptural voids of his modernist peers, Houser carried the mantle of both Native American and Modernism to new levels, bringing forth such memorable images as the Lead Singer, Abstract Crown Dancer, and The Mystic.
Houser also continued to produce remarkable figurative pieces as well, including the life-sized bronze work Chiricuhua Apache Family, dedicated in 1983 at the Fort Sill Apache Tribal Center in Apache, OK. The piece honored both the memory of his parents, Sam and Blossom, and commemorates the 70th anniversary of the release of his tribe’s prisoners-of-war from Fort Sill.
In 1985, Houser’s monumental bronze, Offering of the Sacred Pipe, was dedicated at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations in New York City A year later, he made a bronze bust of Geronimo to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the surrender of the Chiricuhua Apaches. A cast of the bust was later presented to the National Portrait Gallery, where it remains in the permanent collection.
In his last five years, Houser produced a remarkable number of pieces, and received many awards for his life’s work. In 1989 he dedicated As Long as the Waters Flow, a monumental bronze commissioned for the Oklahoma State Capitol building in Oklahoma City. In 1991, he presented a casting of a bronze Sacred Rain Arrow to the Smithsonian Institution. In the dedication before the US Senate Select Committee on Indian Affairs, he dedicated the work to the American Indian.
While his best known works are sculpture, Houser left extensive drawings and had his beginnings in painting.