Allan Houser is known world-wide as one of the most important American
artists of the 20th Century, but he experienced a winding road to
the status of legendary art icon. Given the dramatic impact of his
art and its continued status even 30 years after his death, you
might rightly expect that his art was his only means of support
for the better part of his life. But he had to take various jobs
to pay the way, including construction, handyman work and his favorite,
teaching. In truth, it wasnt until much later in his life
that he felt ready to retire and concentrate solely
on his art.
Allan Houser working
on bronze Navajo Runner sculpture. (1975)
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing David Rettig, a family
friend and curator of collections for the Allan Houser Estate. He
knew Allan Houser for the last 20 years of his life, and has worked
for the family since shortly after Allans death in 1994.
David Rettig left with
renowned Native American artist T.C. Cannon. 1973. Two years
before T.C introduced David to Allan Houser
I took the opportunity to learn more about Allan Houser the person,
and gain access to photographs from the familys personal archive
that show a little backstory behind the making of this legendary
Allans parents, Sam and Blossom Haozous, were of the Chiricahua
Apache tribe a hunter-gatherer tribe that moved between northern
Mexico and New Mexico.
Sam Haozous-Apache Soldier
at Fort Sill O.K. c 1900. Image courtesy of Houser family
Blossom Haozous and daughter
Ethelene. Fort Sill circa 1911. Courtesy Houser family archive
Sam Haozous father was first cousin to Apache leader Geronimo,
and a member of the band of Chiricahua known as Warm Springs Apaches.
(Warm Springs was a location they frequented, about 60 miles north
of Truth or Consequences, then known as Hot Springs, New Mexico.)
In 1886, after heavy fighting, and two years in exile, Geronimo
surrendered to the U.S. Army in northern Mexico. As punishment and
retribution, Geronimo and those related and sympathetic to him were
imprisoned and transported by train, often in cattle cars, to various
prisons in Florida, Alabama, and finally Oklahoma.
Geronimo [front row-3rd
from right] and Warm Springs tribe members on the way to Florida
by train. 1886. Image: Floridamemory.com
Eventually, in 1894, approximately 250 Chiricahua were confined
at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, where they were held for 20 more years.
This population of Chiricahua Apaches, who had become known as
the Ft. Sill Apaches were finally released in late 1913
and early 1914. They were given the option to return to New Mexico,
where they could choose to join the Mescalero Apache on their reservation,
or to stay in Oklahoma and receive land parcels to farm. Sam and
Blossom were among the 14 families who chose to stay and create
farms, raising livestock, alfalfa, cotton and vegetables.
Allan C. Haozous was born on June 30th, 1914. While in captivity,
it became a custom among the Chiricahua to use the last name of
the commanding officer as the middle initial for children. Even
though Allan was the first to be born out of captivity, his parents
maintained the tradition. The C in Allans name
represents Capron, the name of the commanding officer at Fort Sill.
Cousin Alfred, Allan
and cousin Mildred. Circa 1922. Courtesy Houser family archive.
Through his childhood, Allan attended school and worked on the
farm. He was diligent and had a strong work ethic. Even as a teenager
when he became a Golden Gloves boxing champion, he showed his ability
to apply himself and be one of the best at whatever he turned his
Allan Hauzous circa 1930.
Courtesy Houser family archive.
But it was his eye for artistic imagery and an innate talent for
drawing pictures that was a steadily growing seed throughout his
childhood. From an early age, hed smuggle paper out of school
to sketch on. Not until his adolescence did the artist seed truly
break soil. Allan once said in an interview, I was twenty
years old when I finally decided that I really wanted to paint.
I had learned a great deal about my tribal customs from my father
and my mother, and the more I learned the more I wanted to put it
down on canvas or something. Thats pretty much how it started.
In 1934, Allan saw a notice at the Indian Office in Anadarko, Oklahoma,
inviting applicants to join the Painting School at the Santa Fe
Indian School, under the guidance of renowned teacher Dorothy Dunn.
Dorothy Dunn Kramer circa
1968. Well known for teaching art at the Santa Fe Indian School.
Much to the disappointment of his father, Allan applied and was
accepted. It would be many years before Sam would forgive his son
for such an unorthodox diversion from the family tradition and livelihood.
Allan attended the Santa Fe Indian School from 1934 to 1938. At
20 years of age, he was the oldest in the class, but was to become
the most famous.
It was during his time at the Indian School that his name was formalized
from Haozous to Houser. Perhaps due to the Haozous names unfamiliarity
to Anglo ears, he was assigned the name Houser by his elementary
school administrators, and he chose to use it in signing his paintings.
In the Apache language, Ha-oz-ous represents the sound or sensation
of pulling roots. David Rettig described it to me as
that feeling when you pull a plant from the earth and the
point at which the earth gives way. That is haozous.
In a sense Allan did pull away from the family livelihood
of farming, which worried his father and was cause for a rift between
them for many years, but he also remained deeply rooted in his tribal
culture through his artistic representations of Native American
Allan Houser. Apache
Gans Dancer- Pen and Ink. 1939.
When Allan first arrived in Santa Fe to attend the Indian Schools
art class, hed work odd jobs and construction to make enough
to survive. Shortly after graduating in 1939, he exhibited at the
Worlds Fair in New York City. Also in 1939, he married Anna
Marie Gallegos. They had five sons, Lon, Roy Philip, Bob and Stephen.
Bob and Phillip became renowned artists in their own right.
Anna Marie, youngest
son Stephen, Allan, Bob, Phillip and dog Bully. 1962. Houser
In 1938 and 1939, Allan was commissioned to paint full-size murals
in the Department of the Interiors headquarters in Washington
Breaking Camp During
Wartime. circa 1938. Mural commissioned at the Dept.
of Interior, W.A. D.C. Image: Houser family archive.
Despite the initial flux of commissions and shows, there were gaps
in the road to financial stability that called for Allan to travel
in search of work to support his family.
Allan. Steelworker in
L.A circa 1942. Image: Houser family archive.
From 1942 to 1947, Allan moved his family to Los Angeles. During
the war years, there was a demand for construction workers and welders.
Allan found work as a pipefitters assistant. Hed work
a full day shift and then continue working on his art at night.
David Rettig told me of a turning point for Allan that came in
1947. Back in the early 1940s, Allan had carved several small wooden
sculptures. They were his only endeavors in sculptural work to that
Allan Housers first
Pine carvings of Apache Dancers height 9.5". Circa 1941.
Image: Houser family archive.
In 1947, he was contacted by Interior Department officials and
asked if he could sculpt. When Allan said, Sure, they
asked him to submit a proposal to the Haskell Institute in Lawrence,
Kansas, for a monumental sculpture commission. He submitted his
application and underwent the interview process that convinced the
board he could undertake the task. Undaunted by his lack of sculpting
experience in any material, let alone in large stone, Allan created
a beautiful seven-foot-tall marble monument to honor the Native
Americans lost in WWII. This piece was the foundation of his path
toward worldwide recognition.
Allan Houser carving
Comrade in Mourning. circa 1948. Image: Houser
Comrade in Mourning was finished and dedicated in 1949.
Allan took his parents to the dedication ceremony. It was at that
point Sam began to acknowledge and respect his sons choice
to break from family tradition to become an artist.
From 1948 onward, the string of prestigious awards and commissions
gathered momentum. To paraphrase, you might say that the rest
is art history, as Housers work infiltrated the art
world and transformed Native American art from the parochial to
the monumental in myriad ways.
In 1951, he began his teaching career as artist-in-residence at
the Inter-Mountain School in Brigham, Utah. As museums around the
world acquired works for their permanent collections, and gave him
honorable recognition and awards, Allan continued an intense schedule.
He worked hard teaching by day, and dedicated his nights to his
art studio, developing his unique vision of the modernist style
in both representational and abstract works in sculpture and painting.
Allan teaching sculpture.
In 1962 the family returned to Santa Fe, where Allan taught painting
and sculpture at the Institute of American Indian Art. He loved
teaching and was very devoted to his art students. His teaching
career spanned 24 years.
Allan [at right] teaching
art students at I.A.I.A. circa 1963.
In 1975, at the age of 61, Allan finally felt it was time to retire
from teaching and focus full-time on his art. For the next 19 years,
he maintained a rigorous schedule practicing his passion, exhibiting
works in museums, and earning prestigious commissions and numerous
national and international awards. During his career, major exhibitions
of his work were presented in Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and Vienna.
Allan working on the
plaster for bronze casting of As Long as the Waters
Flow. circa 1988. Monument was commissioned for the
Oklahoma State Capitol Bldg. Houser family archive.
However well known and well honored Allan became, it never seemed
to change him. David Rettig remembers him as humble, and very
generous with his spirit and time. A soft-spoken man who would offer
you the same attention as hed given the President that hed
just received an award from.
Allan was the first Native
American to receive the nations highest honor for artists.
Awarded National Medal of Arts by President George. H. W.
In 1993, David recalls spending Christmas Dinner with the family.
Allan had a cut on his hand that he received when pulling canvas
off a stone he had been working on. It was particularly slow to
heal and he told David that he didnt feel too good. But he
continued to work. Eight months later, on August 22nd, in his Santa
Fe home, Allan died of cancer. He is survived by four of his sons,
three grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and his wife Anna
Marie, who celebrates her 103rd year in 2015.
Mr. & Mrs. Houser
Allan maintained his rigorous schedule to the end. In his final
year he completed over forty sculptural works, including the twelve-foot-tall
monumental bronze Unconquered, as well as hundreds of
drawings and sketches.
Bronze, 1994. Allan Houser.
Allan Capron Haozous Houser was devoted to his art and created
a vast, vibrant legacy that lives on.
Allan painting in his
studio. 1994. Image: Houser family archive.
Allans extensive body of work, imbued with his spirit and
that of his Native American ancestry is legendary, and continues
to work as hard as he did, with numerous museum exhibits and shows
each year. The
Allan Houser Gallery celebrated the 100th anniversary of his
birth in 2014, with multiple exhibitions that carry forward into
In the Allan Houser Gallery
Like the Eagle. bronze. Allan Houser Haozous
Were fortunate his teaching career brought him back to Santa
Fe. Today, the Allan
Houser Gallery offers us a close connection to his iconic art
at 125 Lincoln Ave, suite 112. Just steps from the historic Santa
Fe Plaza, the gallery shows a variety of Allans work year-round,
and David Rettig is often there to offer deeper insight into the
man and the artist he knew.
Allan Houser Sculpture
During the summer months, by appointment, you can take a guided
tour of the spectacular sculpture garden at the family property
off Highway 14 (the Turquoise Trail). Call (505) 982-4705.
For more information on Allan Houser go to: http://santafeselection.com/galleries/allan-houser-gallery
References: Allan Houser: An American Master (Chiricahua Apache,
1914 1994) Author: W. Jackson Rushing III. Publisher:
Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
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