Artist to Know: Allan Houser

Liz Catalano
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Hindman Presents Earth Mother Sculpture by Prominent Chiricahua Apache Artist

In 1848, Mexico ceded over 500,000 square miles of land to a rapidly growing United States in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. Though the treaty ended the relatively short Mexican-American War, it marked the beginning of a long struggle for the Apache tribes who lived on the ceded land. Born out of this struggle was Allan Capron Haozous, the son of Chiricahua Apache prisoners and an artist who would go on to redefine Indigenous art in the 20th century.

Hindman will offer a 1986 bronze sculpture from Haozous, who was known professionally as Allan Houser, in the upcoming Contemporary Native American Art auction. This live event will begin at 12:00 PM EDT on October 9th, 2020. Find out more about Houser and his artistic tradition before placing a bid.

Allan Houser at the dedication of As Long As the Waters Flow in 1989. Image courtesy of Allan Houser Inc.
Allan Houser at the dedication of As Long As the Waters Flow in 1989. Image courtesy of Allan Houser Inc.

Houser’s parents, Sam and Blossom Haozous, grew up after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was put in place. Local hunter-gatherer Apache communities had long resisted relocation, eventually actively working against the removal efforts of the American government. By the late 1880s, the Chiricahua Apache resistance was decimated and held in captivity. The U.S. Army transported them from their lands in present-day New Mexico to prisons in Florida. Sam and Blossom Haozous were among those held for over 20 years. The artist was the first child born after their release.

Houser began exploring art from an early age but waited until his young adulthood to pursue it. “I was twenty years old when I finally decided that I really wanted to paint,” he said. “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.”

He spent several years at the Santa Fe Indian School learning art under Dorothy Dunn before coming into his own as an independent artist. Before long, Houser’s work was exhibited at the Museum of New Mexico, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the New York World’s Fair. He would eventually begin to blend his Indigenous heritage with the aesthetics of Modernist sculpture.

Allan Houser, Earth Mother, 1986. Image from Hindman.
Allan Houser, Earth Mother, 1986. Image from Hindman.

One work that grew out of this perspective was Earth Mother (1986). The bronze piece, offered in the coming Hindman event, shows a Native American woman sitting with her legs crossed. In her lap is a young girl who clings to the mother’s chest. This was one of an edition of six and is offered with an estimate of USD 20,000 to $30,000. Another example of Earth Mother is held by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Earth Mother was created during the most active and prolific period of Houser’s career, a time when he was experimenting with techniques and materials. Mike Leslie, the assistant director of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, noted the flexibility of the artist’s later career. “Many artists, once they obtain a certain level of recognition, lock themselves into a narrow, comfortable style of artistic expression, and their works give the appearance of repetitiveness—having the same look and feel,” he told HistoryNet in an interview. “If you look at Houser’s work over his lifespan, you see a broad scope of artistic style and creativity.”

Allan Houser, Hunting Song II, 1987. Image from Heritage Auctions.
Allan Houser, Hunting Song II, 1987. Image from Heritage Auctions.

From the same period is Hunting Song II, a steatite stone sculpture brought to auction in July of 2020. The sculpture was created in 1987 to resemble a woman singing and beating a drum. Houser’s use of steatite was informed by cultural beliefs linking the stone with self-transformation. This piece sold for $32,500, one of the artist’s highest realized prices in recent years.

Bidders have historically favored Houser’s sculptures above the paintings and drawings he completed in his earlier years. Auction prices for the sculptures have also been on the rise since the early 2000s. Christie’s sold a bronze sculpture for $9,600 in 2006 against an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. More recent sales have placed his works well above $13,000.

Though Houser is still recognized after his death in 1994, he was considered a key figure in 20th-century American art during his lifetime. He was the first Native American to receive the National Medal of Arts and completed work for the United Nations. “Art was my father’s means of communicating,” Bob Haozous, one of Houser’s sons, said in 2014. “That was the tool he chose, and he made beautiful art. I’m a sculptor, but I don’t see anybody close to him.”

Houser’s Earth Mother piece will be available in the upcoming Hindman auction on October 9th, 2020 at 12:00 PM EDT. Visit Bidsquare for more information and to place a bid.