Art Notes: Dartmouth Exhibition Celebrates Centennial of Sculptor Allan Houser’s Birth

Thursday, May 22, 2014
The artist Allan Houser was born in 1914, not long after a band of Chiricahua Apache that included his father, Sam Haozous, were finally freed from bondage by the U.S. government after nearly 30 years in captivity and permitted to return to their homelands in the Southwest.

Sam Haozous elected to remain near Fort Sill, Okla., where the tribe had been relocated by the government after forced deportations from Arizona and New Mexico east to the humid, inhospitable climates of Florida and Alabama, and then west again to Oklahoma. He was a first cousin of Geronimo, the legendary leader of the Chiricahua, and was with him when he finally surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1886 in northern Mexico. His wife Blossom Haozous gave birth to Allan in 1914.

Allan Houser’s life ended in 1994, after nearly a century’s reappraisal of how the U.S. had mistreated the hundreds of different tribes lumped into the catch-all category of American Indian, or its modern incarnation Native American.

In commemoration of the centenary of his birth, an exhibition of Houser’s sculpture is on view at the Maffei Arts Plaza and Hood gateway, which is a long-winded way of saying in the courtyard outside the Black Family Visual Arts Center (another mouthful) and in front of Wilson Hall at Dartmouth College. A show of his drawings will go on view in the fall in the Strauss Gallery in the Hopkins Center.

In 1979, Houser was an artist-in-residence in the Studio Arts program at the college, and one of his sculptures stands outside Sherman House, home to Dartmouth’s Native American Studies Program, said Katherine Hart, the museum’s senior curator of collections. His son Bob Haozous, also a sculptor, was an artist-in-residence at the college in 1989.

Houser, said Hart, “was the founding father of an entire style. If it feels familiar that’s because a lot of people have been influenced by him.”

Over the course of his nearly 50-year career, Houser drew, painted and made sculptures that were massive or intimate, figurative and abstract. (In the Apache language, h aozous “refers to either the sound or sense of roots being pulled from the ground,” said David Rettig, the curator of collections at Allan Houser, Inc., in Santa Fe, N.M.) Houser began studying art at the Santa Fe Indian School, under the tutelage of its most prominent teacher Dorothy Dunn, and by 1939 was receiving commissions to do murals in the WPA style for the Department of the Interior building in Washington, D.C.

Like any artist, Houser was influenced by myriad sources, which in his case included the history of the Apache and their visual and performing arts, the landscapes of the vast open Southern Plains and the mountains of the Southwest and such 20th century sculptors as Henry Moore, Jean Arp and Constantin Brancusi.

So is Houser an Apache artist, an artist who happens to be Apache, or an American sculptor who should be considered in the same ranks as David Smith, Louise Nevelson or Louise Bourgeois but hasn’t been because he’s been too conveniently slotted into the category of Native American artist? In other words, why does the arts establishment continue to, consciously or unconsciously, segregate artists by gender, ethnicity and race?

“He’s an American Modernist,” said Rettig, who graduated from Dartmouth in 1975, moved out to Santa Fe after college and was introduced to Houser there.

Arthur Dove, Georgia O’Keeffe and John Marin were some of his contemporaries, said Rettig, but while they are regarded as major 20th century American artists whose works should be collected by art museums, many curators and museums still place Houser in shows that are more ethnographic in nature than art historical, or have trouble deciding where to exhibit his work.

Rettig pointed to a 1991 retrospective that was supposed to be installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, one of this country’s leading museums for contemporary art, but which ended up being shuffled over to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles — right along with the dinosaurs, dioramas and ancient Latin American art.

“He still went to the opening and still carried through with it, but he was very disappointed,” Rettig said. “He faced prejudice in his life in many ways and he managed to supercede it. He would say that’s the way it was.”

There are four sculptures in the courtyard between the Black Family center and the Hopkins Center: Abstract Crown Dancer I, Morning Solitude, Options and This Was Our Home; and one called Water Carrier in the walkway outside Wilson Hall that leads to the Hood Museum, which can be seen through the underpass that leads from the courtyard outside the Black Family center through to Wheelock Street. It’s too bad that more Houser sculptures aren’t on view throughout the campus because five sculptures, while better than nothing, don’t quite give a sense of the enormous range of his work.

Abstract Crown Dancer I is one of a series of such representations of important figures in Apache mythology that Houser would reinvent over his career. The crown dancers, so called because of their elaborate, lofty head pieces, embody the mountain spirits, Rettig said, who are summoned in ceremonial dances to tell the Apache people who they are, “and what kind of life they should lead. ... They remained a symbol and icon that he would revisit.”

Houser’s sculpture seems to catch a crown dancer mid-stomp and mid-chant, a release of molten energy that becomes even more significant when you learn that the Apache were banned from performing them during their imprisonment.

This Was Our Home shows a cloaked mother and child, the child emerging from the mother’s shadow, their faces suggested by tear-drop shaped openings that recede into the darkness of the cloaks. While it refers to the sorrow of the Apache contemplating what they’ve left behind and lost, its universality lies in its allusion to any people who experience the trauma of a forced removal, or even simply the loss of home or country. These are vessels into which, and out of which, emotion pours.

Morning Solitude evokes everything from clouds, mountains, mesas and buttes, to reclining human or animal forms, or perhaps inchoate thoughts beginning to take shape.

Unlike the kitschy stereotypes of 20th century popular culture, in which depictions of American Indians relied heavily on tomahawk-carrying warriors in feathered head dresses, regardless of whether a particular tribe carried tomahawks or wore head dresses, Houser brought to his representations of the Apache and Navajo, and other Plains and Southwest tribes, a “dignity and monumental expression,” Hart added.

And the longer his career carried on, the more ambitious he became “in terms of his own reach,” she said.

“His legacy has continued to grow,” Rettig said. “He really worked so hard and was so prolific.”

When the Smithsonian opened its highly anticipated National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. in 2004, Rettig said, one of its premiere exhibits was dedicated to the two 20th century artists judged to have been most prominent in shaping the direction of American Indian art: one was George Morrison, a painter and collagist who was Chippewa — and the other one was Allan Houser.

Allan Houser’s sculptures can be seen through May 10, 2015. A “sculpture walk” around Houser’s work, followed by a chance to experiment in Dartmouth’s sculpture studio, is planned for June 11 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Call 603-646-1469 to register by June 9.

Openings and Receptions

The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish opens for the summer on Saturday. The park is a national treasure, the home of some of the most important work by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the father of American sculpture.

The park also shows contemporary art in its Picture Gallery, which will open “Ceremonial Concealment,” a show of recent work by Elaine Bradford, with a reception Saturday evening, 4:30 to 6. Bradford will talk about her work at 5. The park charges an entry fee of $5 per person, but since the park closes at 4:30, the reception is free and open to the public.

∎ Cider Hill Art Gallery in Windsor is open for the season and is showing paintings in egg tempera and gold leaf by Gary Milek, who founded the gallery and has been painting in the Upper Valley since 1974.

∎ The Hale Street Gang are taking over the the Great Hall in Springfield, Vermont. Photographer Jack Rowell took 24 pictures of Randolph residents, ages 80 to 90, and writer Sara Tucker helped the women and men shape their stories in print. Oral histories are also part of the show, which runs until Oct. 10. Rowell will be giving a talk this Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. It’s the first time that the exhibit will be shown in the southern part of the state. Also exhibiting is Randolph designer and artist Phil Godenschwager.


White River Junction’s Scavenger Gallery hosts “Never Seen Again,” a suite of paintings by New York artist Judith Vivell that tackle the subject of extinction. Also on display will be new jewelry by Scavenger owner Stacy Hopkins from her collection of work cast from natural history specimens.

Vivell, a realist painter devoted to the natural world, also has an exhibition of large-scale portraits of birds in the lobby of the Vermont Supreme Court in Montpelier, through June 27.

∎ Two Rivers Printmaking Studio hosts “Collaboration: A Study of Emotion in Color and Form,” prints by Patty Castellini and Victoria Shalvah Herzberg. The show consists of monotype and solar plate etchings exploring color and the human figure, prints the artists made working together and on their own. The show will run through June 4.

∎ Art on the River Gallery, a new showcase for small works at 100 River St. in Springfield, Vt., hosts “802: Just Vermont,” photographs by Goldie May and John Sinclair. Call 802-885-6156 for more information.

∎ Randolph’s Chandler Gallery holds its Area Artists Show, featuring work by artists from east-central Vermont, through June 15.

∎ “2-D 4-D Fiber Art,” an exhibition of work by Hanover fiber artist Shari Boraz, is on view at the Roth Center for Jewish Life in Hanover. Boraz dyes and embroiders natural fibers and has been working in textiles since the 1970s. The show continues through June 15.

∎ The Hood Museum of Art hosts “The Art of Weapons: Selections from the African Collection,” and “In Residence: Contemporary Artists at Dartmouth.”

∎ Aidron Duckworth Art Museum, in Duckworth’s former home and studio on Bean Road in Meriden, hosts “How Colors Sing,” a show of landscape drawings and abstract paintings by Amherst, Mass., artist Lorna Ritz, and “Exhibition XXIII, Simplified Forms in Color,” a show chosen by two of the museum’s new trustees that features simpler forms and figures from Duckworth’s oeuvre.

∎ Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center’s spring arts shows include work by painter Georgina Forbes, digital painter Gloria King Merritt and photographer Hunter Paye, as well as participants in the yearly Employee & Volunteer Art Show.

∎ “Girls, Girls, Girls,” recent paintings by Daisy Rockwell, is on view at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction.

∎ Collective — the Art of Craft, a cooperative gallery in Woodstock, is featuring the work of jeweler Joy Raskin, photographer Miranda Hammond and leathersmith Kim Rilleau through the month of June.

∎ Tunbridge Public Library shows paintings by Peter Flint.

∎ A show of work by Alastair Noble, artist in resident at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock, continues at Artistree in Woodstock through June 15. There will be a closing reception on Saturday, June 7, from 6 to 8 p.m.

Nicola Smith can be reached at


Bob Haozous was an artist-in-residence at Dartmouth College in the summer of 1989. The year of his residence was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.

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