Allan Houser1914 - 1994
Born: June 30, 1914, near Apache, Oklahoma
Died: August 23, 1994, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Allan Houser grew up on a government farm near Apache, Oklahoma. He was greatly influenced by his parents, who spoke in their native tongue, sang and chanted traditional music, and recalled memories of Native American wars and struggles. In 1934, Houser studied under Dorothy Dunn at the Painting Studio of the Santa Fe Indian School, and two years later, he exhibited paintings at the World's Fair in New York. In 1939, Houser and Navajo painter Gerald Nailor were commissioned to paint a mural in the Department of the Interior Building in Washington, D.C. Houser studied with Olle Nordmark, a Norwegian muralist at the Fort Sill Indian School in Oklahoma. With Nordmark's encouragement, he began to explore sculpture, working with small wood carvings. Through the 1940s, he worked in construction as a pipe fitter's assistant, while sculpting and painting at night. He taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe and later became head of the sculpture department. In 1968, he cast his first bronze works, and in 1975, retired from teaching to concentrate on sculpture.
Houser's bronze, stone, and steel figures depict Apache mothers and children, Navajo shepherds, Plains chieftains, and other tribal subjects. The men and women are depicted in traditional roles. The female characters act as mothers to children and earth alike, gathering food and carrying water. The male figures hunt, ride, fight, chant, and play music. Isolated from external environments, Houser's figures are graceful and direct. Houser says, "I work not just for myself, but to honor the American Indian. I hope to draw attention to centuries-old values, especially concepts of living in harmony with nature that can benefit all people." The National Museum of Wildlife Art's elegant Lament conveys strong emotion and attitude. Holding a buffalo skull, the figure dramatizes the emotional and catastrophic impact of the bison's demise on the Plains Indians cultures.
Houser completed many commissions including, Comrade in Mourning, a memorial sculpture honoring the Native Americans who died in WWII. He also designed the 59th medal for the American Society of Medalists. Houser received many honors and awards, including the Guggenheim Fellowship for Painting and Sculpture, the Palmes Academique from the French Government, the Waite Phillips Trophy from the Philbrook Art Center in Oklahoma, a Gold Medal from the Heard Museum in Phoenix, three Governor's Awards for the Visual Arts in New Mexico, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Indian Resources Institute in Washington, D.C., and the National Medal of Arts presented by President Bush in 1992. Houser's work is recognized in many museums and private collections, including the National Museum of American Art, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Denver Art Museum, the Gilrease Museum, the Philbrook Art Center, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, and the National Museum of Wildlife Art.