NORMAN — Many know Allan Houser for his brilliant paintings and sculptures largely depicting Native American themes. But a new exhibit at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art is set to challenge preconceived notions on the award-winning Chiricahua Apache modern artist.
“Allan Houser Drawings: The Centennial Exhibition” opens March 8 with 100 of the artist’s never before exhibited or published drawings. Guest curator W. Jackson Rushing III said the exhibit includes 100 drawings, representing 100 years since Houser’s birth.
“There’s a lot of different things to offer people, I think, and really we felt like the whole of it would give people a view of Houser that even people who think they know his work well will be surprised by the things that they see,” said Rushing, the Adkins Presidential Professor of Art History and Mary Lou Milner Carver Chair in Native American Art at the OU School of Art and Art History.
Houser, born Allan Capron Haozous in Apache, Okla., in 1914, was raised on his family farm before attending art school in Santa Fe. His early career focused on paintings, Rushing said, and Houser quickly gained a reputation as an award-winning artist. A switch to sculpture later in his career brought further success, bringing Houser an international reputation.
In Oklahoma, Houser may best be known for his sculpture “As Long as the Waters Flow,” which was dedicated at the state Capitol in 1989, and “Sacred Rain Arrow,” which has adorned state license plates since 2008.
Towards the end of his career, Rushing said Houser went back to drawing as a means to reinvigorate his work. From 1992 to 1994, the artist was prolific in the amount of work he created before dying from cancer in 1994.
Rushing said 99 of the displayed works in OU’s exhibit come from Houser’s estate in Santa Fe, with the other one already owned by the Fred Jones.
Drawings include works small and large, unfinished and highly refined, and stylistically range from abstract to representational, Rushing said. Frequent subjects include sculpture studies, portraits, Southwestern landscapes, and themes like scenes of Native life, animals and more.
Rushing said Houser’s sketches provide a level of intimacy with the late artist that is difficult to achieve with his highly polished paintings and sculptures.
“The thing that I like about works on paper and drawings in particular is the immediacy of them. There’s a lot of immediate access for a viewer,” Rushing said. “You can really see the artist’s hand at work and therefore something about their thinking process. The ones that are really quickly done, sort of fast drawings, they show us the mind at work, the spontaneity of the mind. ... I like what they reveal about the process of art itself, about the relationship between mind and hand, if you will.”
OU’s Houser exhibit is just one of 11 planned statewide this year in recognition of the artist’s lifelong career. The collaborative celebrations were organized by the Oklahoma Museums Association and began in August with an exhibition at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
Additional information about the Oklahoma celebration is available online at OKHouser.org.
“Allan Houser Drawings: The Centennial Exhibition” is on display March 8 to May 18 at the University of Oklahoma’s Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, 555 Elm Ave.
Public educational programs scheduled at the museum to coincide with the exhibition include a lecture by guest curator W. Jackson Rushing III at 6 p.m. March 7; a symposium 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 8; a screening of films by Apache filmmaker Dustinn Craig 1-4 p.m. March 29; a guest lecture by Cécile Ganteaume, curator at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, at 6 p.m. April 3; a gallery talk by students from the OU School of Art and Art History at 12:30 p.m. April 8; Family Day 1-4 p.m. May 18 and a Houser birthday celebration for families 2-4 p.m. June 28.
For more information visit ou.edu/fjjma.
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