Allan Houser was named the first Oklahoma Cultural Ambassador in 1984 and was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame in l985. His monumental bronze sculpture “As Long as the Waters Flow” was dedicated at the state Capitol in 1989.
While his sculptures are widely recognized by Oklahomans, they represent only a fraction of the tremendous achievements of Houser, who was born June 30, 1914, in Oklahoma to members of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe. Houser produced more than 1,000 sculptures in stone, wood and bronze, plus more than 500 paintings, 2,000 matted drawings and 30,000 sketches.
In connection with the 100th anniversary of Houser’s birth, the Oklahoma History Center is presenting “Born to Freedom: Allan Houser Centennial” as one of numerous celebration exhibits across the state.
“Not only is Allan Houser one of the greatest artists born and raised in Oklahoma, but the story of his life is the perfect illustration of the challenges and opportunities faced by American Indians caught between two worlds,” said Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma Historical Society executive director. “His art reflects that story of cultural survival.”
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman features 100 of Houser’s inimitable drawings, 99 percent of which have never been exhibited or displayed before, said Brenda Granger, executive director of the Oklahoma Museums Association.
Visitors also can his works through 2014 at museums and cultural institutions across the state, including the Capitol, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, Will Rogers World Airport and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, in Oklahoma City; the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art, Stillwater; Museum of the Red River, Idabel; Gilcrease Museum and the Philbrook Downtown, Tulsa; Chisholm Trail Heritage Center, Duncan; and the Southern Plains Indian Museum, Anadarko.
“Each exhibition throughout the state is unique, whether showcasing works that have never been on display or highlighting Houser’s work as a teacher and mentor,” Granger said. “We highly encourage visiting each exhibition to get a complete overview of Houser’s memory, works and legacy.”
‘Legacy in Bronze’
Five large-scale sculptures were installed on the grounds of the Capitol, joining “As Long as the Waters Flow,” which greets visitors at the Capitol’s south plaza, said Joel Gavin, director of marketing and communications for the Oklahoma Arts Council.
The five sculptures comprise a special exhibit titled “Allan Houser at the Capitol: A Legacy in Bronze.” The pieces are “Singing Heart,” “Morning Prayer,” “Spirit of the Wind,” “Warm Springs Apache Man,” and “Hunter’s Vision.”
“As such a highly regarded Oklahoma artist, Houser truly deserves to be commemorated,” said Amber Sharples, executive director of the Oklahoma Arts Council. “During 2014, thousands of visitors can enjoy these additions to the Capitol while learning about Houser’s role in our state’s artistic legacy.”
Sharples also said she is “thrilled” to introduce an audio tour for Capitol visitors. Using their cellphones, visitors can access the audio tour without charge to learn about Houser.
The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority partnered with the Arts Council to produce the audio tour, said Dan Schiedel, OETA executive director. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate the vital role the arts play in educating people about Oklahoma history and culture,” he said.
About the artist
Houser is the son Sam and Blossom Haozous, who were members of the Chiricahua Apache Tribe and had been held as prisoners of war for 27 years before Allan’s birth. After their release, the family stayed in Oklahoma to develop a farm in the Apache community on 160 acres. Allan attended Boone Public School and left high school to work on the family farm. He also developed an early interest in art with drawings and small carvings.
At age 20, Houser enrolled in the Studio School of Indian Painting at the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico to study under Dorothy Dunn. He soon became the most famous student, exhibiting paintings at the World’s Fair in San Francisco, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 1939 he married Anna Marie Gallegos, and they moved to Los Angeles in 1941. In 1947 he was commissioned by the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kan., to produce a sculpture honoring American Indians who died in World War II. The marble carving, titled “Comrade in Mourning,” was dedicated in 1948.
Houser later taught at Brigham City, Utah, and joined the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in 1962. He retired from teaching in 1975 and devoted the rest of his life to his own art.