11 Little-Seen Drawings by Modernist Apache Sculptor Allan Houser

11 Little-Seen Drawings by Modernist Apache Sculptor Allan Houser

By: 
Brian Daffron
2/12/14

Allan Houser, or Haozous (1914-1994), an enrolled member of the Fort Sill Apache Tribe, is known as one of the preeminent American artists of the 20th century. His sculptures are exhibited all over the world alongside those of other modernists -- yet both of his parents were still considered Chiricahua Apache prisoners of war until shortly before Allan’s birth.

The inspiration for Houser’s art can be found in many sources. He drew not only upon his own Apache roots, but also from other Oklahoma and Southwestern Tribes. Houser studied the contemporary art movements of his lifetime as well, finding ways to incorporate their forms into his own work.

Although he is known primarily for his sculpture and paintings, he was also highly interested in drawing, and illustrated children’s books for at least a decade, from 1952-1962. In his last years, much of his art focused solely on drawing. However, Houser died before he could have an exhibit that featured his drawings.  

Throughout 2014, many Oklahoma museums are collaborating to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Houser’s birth. The University of Oklahoma's Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art has chosen to pay homage to Houser by exhibiting 100 of his drawings, on loan from the Allan Houser Estate, from March 8 to May 18.

According to Dr. Jackson Rushing of the OU School of Art and Art History, showing Houser’s art is “a realization of a dream deferred.” Indian Country Today Media Network had the chance to ask Rushing, the guest curator of the exhibit, a few questions about Houser’s work.

What can people learn about Houser’s art by his drawings?

Drawings have such an immediacy to them. They give us remarkable access to the inner workings of an artist’s mind. In many cases, we can see [Houser] visually thinking out loud and follow the creative process. They’re pretty remarkable in terms of the intimate access they give us.

What makes Houser unique among other artists—not just Native artists, but artists as a whole?  

One of the things that I find interesting and exciting about him was his artistic independence. He’s one of the few Native American artists—certainly of his generation—who had wide-ranging interests beyond the world of Indian art. He was interested in modern British sculpture. He was interested in Charlie Russell and Frederic Remington and so-called cowboy artists of the Old West. In a single sketching moment, he could be thinking about modern British art that was about Pre-Columbian sculpture or he could be thinking about Navajo shepherds on horseback out in the countryside. He could really mix things up.

Why is Houser significant in the history of Native art, specifically? 

In the world of Native art, he was a part of a small group of artists—maybe no more than five or six artists of his generation—who were determined to be, on the one hand, nurtured by tradition, but not be constricted by tradition. Apache stories and ceremonies were important for him, but so was the larger world of art—European or Native. He was interested in a wide variety of things.

Were any other of these drawings from the exhibit used in other media—a study to create sculpture or other paintings?

I think one reason Alan made lots of drawings that are related to sculpture is that you can only part so much marble and cast so much bronze. He had so many ideas about three-dimensional art that, to satisfy his interest in sculptural form, he made lots of drawings for and about sculpture. It’s a way of being sculptural without actually having to carve marble and cast bronze, which is a very time-consuming process.

What can the public learn about humanity, as a whole, by looking at Houser’s works?

They speak directly to indigenous experience in Oklahoma and the Southwest. At the same time, I think many people would agree they transcend that. They are about a larger sense of humanity—the strength and the character, the survival they seem to make manifest in the universal human quality. 

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
I'd known about Houser's art for sometime, but never really knew much about the man. Thanks for providing this fine article and I would like to suggest that there be future articles on Native craftsmen and artists.

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