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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


September 22, 2001 - Issue 45


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Going For the Bronze


 by Brandon Griggs The Salt Lake Tribune-September 9, 2001

The 2002 Winter Olympics are five months away, but the Cultural Olympiad -- the arts festival surrounding the Games -- hits the ground this week with an outdoor exhibition of large bronze sculptures by the late Apache artist Allan Houser.

Sixteen of the sculptures are installed on the grounds of the City and County Building in downtown Salt Lake City and will remain on view there, day and night, through March 17, 2002. The Houser exhibition is the first of 10 Olympics-sanctioned public art shows to be mounted along the Wasatch Front between now and April. It will join dozens of music, dance, spoken-word, film and rodeo performances as part of the Olympic Arts Festival, as the Cultural Olympiad also is known.

Whether dancing, praying, hunting or nursing children, Houser's sleek human figures evoke quiet strength. Their handsome faces radiate pride, and their scale is impressive: Some tower more than 10 feet tall and weigh more than a ton.

"The works themselves are monumental," says Cultural Olympiad director Raymond T. Grant, who approached Houser's estate about displaying the sculptures. "They are Olympic by proportion."

Arguably the country's leading sculptor, Houser also became its most influential Native American artist. Before his 1994 death from colon cancer at age 80, he was credited with reviving the art of stone sculpture in the United States. Houser's work graces the collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the British Royal Family. In 1992, President Bush awarded him the National Medal of Arts, the country's highest honor for artists, at a White House ceremony.

These achievements capped Houser's remarkable journey from his modest roots as an impoverished Oklahoma farm boy. His father was Sam Haozous, who spent 27 years in jail for aiding Geronimo in protesting the U.S. government's efforts to remove Apaches from their tribal lands. Born Allan Haozous in 1914, Houser changed his surname to make it easier for others to pronounce.

By the late 1930s, Houser had studied art under Dorothy Dunn in Santa Fe and exhibited his paintings at prestigious museums in Chicago and Washington, D.C. By the early 1940s, he was increasingly drawn to sculpture, in which, he said, "I found my soul." While living in Los Angeles during World War II, he attended museums and became exposed to such European modernist sculptors as Henry Moore, whose abstract, rounded style had a profound influence on Houser's work.

A longtime educator, Houser taught art for 11 years at the Intermountain Indian School in Brigham City before returning in 1962 to Santa Fe, where he joined the faculty of the newly created Institute of American Indian Arts. After 13 years there, he retired from teaching to devote himself full-time to his own work. In the following two decades he would produce nearly 1,000 sculptures in stone, wood and bronze.

"I believe sculpture is the art that people respond to most naturally," Houser once said. "They can take hold of it, they can enjoy it with the sense of touch as well as the sense of sight, and they can enjoy it from all sides."

This populist philosophy characterized Houser's approach to displays of his works, which he believed should be accessible to everyone. He often lingered anonymously at public exhibits of his works to observe reactions to them.

"He loved seeing people interact with his sculptures," says Phillip Haozous, Houser's son, who helped install the bronzes throughout the City and County Building grounds last week. Haozous says his father would be thrilled at this high-profile Olympic exhibition of his work.

"He wanted to be known as a world-class artist. And this type of recognition is exactly what he was striving for in his lifetime," says Haozous, who runs Allan Houser, Inc., the Santa Fe-based company that casts limited edition Houser sculptures from the late artist's original molds. Nearly 300 bronze editions already have sold out. When the remaining editions sell out -- which Haozous estimates will take 10 years -- the molds will be destroyed, he says.

Houser did not return to Utah after his teaching stint at the Brigham City school, but he has lingering ties to the state. A mural he painted on a wall of the now-defunct school's gymnasium was saved earlier this year from demolition. A large Houser sculpture of an Indian chief decorates the Sundance resort above Provo Canyon, and a documentary on his life screened at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival in Park City.

The Cultural Olympiad exhibition includes a life-size bronze sculpture of Houser by Haozous, his son. Two additional Houser sculptures will be placed in terminals at Salt Lake City International Airport to welcome arriving visitors. Another Houser sculpture, depicting an Apache warrior aiming an arrow toward the heavens, will be installed at the Olympic Village as inspiration to the 3,500 athletes who will live there.

Grant sought to showcase Houser at the Olympics in part to honor Utah's American Indian heritage. Although Houser was Apache, a tribe not native to Utah, Grant believes the artist's work transcends tribal boundaries.

"In discussions I've had with other Native American communities, they all applauded the choice," Grant says. "I haven't heard a single [complaint]."

Houser's style also seems fitting for a harmonious sporting event that seeks to inspire millions worldwide while demanding the best from its competitors. By all accounts, Houser was a positive person who promoted peace and human dignity in his work while avoiding images of violence.

"What I'm doing is trying to portray the Indian, in a beautiful way and in a very contemporary way," he once told an interviewer. "I want to emphasize something that for years and years people just took for granted and ignored. 'The Indians were here, so what.' Well, I am trying to change that."

Allan Houser
Born on June 30, 1914, Allan C. Haozous was to become known as Allan Houser, one of the 20th Century's most important artists. Allan's parents, Sam and Blossom Haozous were members of the Chiricahua Apache tribe who were held as prisoner's of war for 27 years.

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