News Column


July 27, 2014

By Kathaleen Roberts, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

July 27--Allan Houser's legacy lives on in a cascade of Native American sculptors who took chisel to stone to free the figure within.

A centennial tribute show, "Footprints: The Inspiration and Influence of Allan Houser," will open at Santa Fe'sMuseum of Indian Arts and Culture and on Museum Hill's Milner Plaza with more than 20 monumental sculptures on Aug. 3.

The exhibition will include five life-sized pieces by Houser, the rest from artists who fell under his sculpted spell. The companion pieces include works by famed artists like Doug Hyde (Nez Perce); Cliff Fragua (Jemez Pueblo); Houser's sons Bob Haozous (Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache) and Philip Haozous (Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache); Oreland Joe (Navajo); Estella Loretto (Jemez Pueblo); Robert Shorty (Navajo); Larry Avakana (Inupiaq of Northern Alaska); Don Chunestudey (Cherokee); Tony Lee (Navajo); Rollie Grandbois (Turtle Mountain Apache) and Craig Dan Goseyun (San Carlos Eastern White Mountain Apache). The exhibition will remain through May 31.

Born in Oklahoma to the son of the legendary Geronimo's translator, at first glance Houser seemed an unlikely candidate for international fame. The U.S. government sent the last of the Chiricahuas to Fort Sill, Okla., where they remained captives for 23 years. Freed in 1914, Houser's parents Sam and Blossom Haozous remained there to start a farm.

In a touch of destiny, their son Allan was the first Chiricahua child born outside of captivity.

The young Houser labored with alfalfa and cotton, helping support the family by growing vegetables and raising livestock. Intrigued by the images he found in magazines and books, he began drawing and carving at an early age. When he applied to the Santa Fe Indian School, his father was appalled. Houser came to New Mexico in 1934 to attend school at the age of 20.

"There were no Indian sculptors," Rettig said. "Allan was the first and trained half of those who became sculptors."

By 1939, Houser's work could be found in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. That same year, officials commissioned him to paint a mural in the Department of the Interior Building in Washington. By 1941, Houser and his wife Anna Marie Gallegos had moved to Los Angeles, where he helped construct the victory ships -- cargo ships built to replace those destroyed by German submarines. In California, the artist visited museum exhibitions of the European artists who would inform his own work: Constantin BrÂncusi, Jean Arp, Jacques Lipschitz and Henry Moore.

In 1949 he received a two-year Guggenheim Fellowship, granting him time to sculpt and provide for his growing family of three sons. He taught art at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City, Utah.

Houser returned to Santa Fe in 1951 to join the faculty of the fledgling Institute of American Indian Arts, where he created the sculpture department.

"He was the very first person they hired," Rettig said. "He was the most famous Indian artist and he had been teaching for 11 years. They used him to recruit students."

Houser used his fame to lure a nucleus of what would become some of the most ground-breaking Native artists of his generation, including painter Fritz Scholder and jewelry artist Charles Loloma. By this time, he had developed a smooth, flowing sculptural aesthetic that became known as the "Houser style."

"They're things of beauty," Rettig said. "There is no angst in them. They portray Native strength."

Over the years, Houser's approach would shift from the bronze representation of a Navajo woman walking her sheep in "Homeward Bound" (1989) to 1990's ode to the modernists who preceded him in "Affection."

"That's the great art history piece," Rettig said. "It's Rodin; it's BrÂncusi's 'The Kiss.' It also contains the textural impulses of Henry Moore."

Houser sealed his legacy by transferring it through teaching.

Acclaimed Nez Perce sculptor Doug Hyde first met Houser at IAIA when he was just 18. The students learned by watching the artist carve his own work.

"He just used the shape of the stone," Hyde said in a telephone interview from the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho, where he was teaching. "It was bringing and preserving the people (within) with the curviness of the stone. We weren't seeing so much interest in pure anatomy."

Working with Houser changed Hyde's major.

"I originally went to the school for painting," he said. "I just loved the idea of a 3-D object and being able to walk around it -- not that blank canvas staring at you."

Hyde's piece "People of the Red Tail Hawk" (bronze) reveals Houser's influence in its rounded forms, he said.

"This piece represents all the Native American nations," Hyde said. "The whole idea is the red tail hawk is revered by all the tribes. The stone had the perfect coloring of the red tail hawk on his wings and his tail."

Jemez Pueblo sculptor Cliff Fragua changed his major from painting to sculpture when he saw the work emerging from Houser's IAIA sculpture class. Fragua created the statue of Pueblo Revolt hero Po'pay now standing in the U.S. Capitol.

"He didn't impose his talent on us; he just sort of watched to see what our limits were and what our desires were," Fragua said.

Outside of class, Houser was more kindly uncle than instructor.

"For me, he was a real gentleman," Fragua said. "One time I was at an arts-and-crafts show. He saw my work and gave me a critique. He had also heard about some of my behavior -- I was kind of wild back then; I was 19 or 20. He just gave me some uncle advice. He just said to cut out the BS: 'You've got talent, so use it.' He said, 'If you don't, you're going to get in a lot of trouble.'

"I always had this rapport with stone and for Mr. Houser to see that rapport and that talent, I was encouraged," Fragua continued. "I was very grateful he was part of my life."

Allan Houser died in Santa Fe in 1994 at 80. Today his work can be found in collections across the globe. If you go

WHAT: "Footprints: The Inspiration and Influence of Allan Houser"

WHEN: Aug. 3 through May 31. Public opening 1-5 p.m.Aug. 3 with posting of the colors by the Mescalero Veterans Group and Kewa Pueblo. Youth dance group performances by the Acoma Rain Dance Group, the Bacavi Dance Group (Hopi Pueblo) and the Continuous Pathway Dance Group (Pojoaque Pueblo)

WHERE: Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, 710 Camino Lejo off Old Santa Fe Trail, Museum Hill, Santa Fe

HOW MUCH: $6New Mexico residents; $9 nonresidents. Children 16 and under free. Sundays free to state residents with ID. Wednesdays free to New Mexico resident seniors with ID; members free. Call 505-476-1250 or email


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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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