Allan Houser was known more in
his latter years for his sculptures than his painting. His early
training at the Santa Fe Indian School in the "Studio" with Dorothy
Dunn served him well throughout his long career. In 1936 he received
the Indian School’s "Arts and Crafts Award" for the best artwork
produced by any artist in the school. Considering that his classmates
read like a "whos-who" of mid-century (and later) Native American
artists, it was really quite an honor.
Houser’s painting was characterized
by a feeling of motion and vitality, with clean, definite outlines,
a flat picture plane and attention to details of costume.1
It is interesting to note that a review of the May, 1935 Museum
of New Mexico "Studio" show by Frederic H. Douglas noted that "'Apache,
Devil Dancers', by Allan Houser, is extraordinarily effective, both
for its use of white on black and for the immense vitality of the
figures".2 It was Dorothy Dunn’s belief that
Houser "possessed a remarkable balance of artistic intelligence,
self-assurance and industry [and] a field of knowledge of tribal
custom and ceremony which he wisely incorporated… to present many
aspects of Chiricahua Apache life."3 He had
his first one-man show at the Museum of New Mexico in March, 1936.
Again according to Dunn, "the exhibit included nineteen watercolors,
virile in line and freely finished in brushwork, which set forth
all aspects of Apache life in versatile manner."4
After graduating from SFIS, in 1938
Houser joined fellow artists Gerald Nailor and Pop Chalee in setting
up what was probably the first independent Native American artists
studio and gallery – in Santa Fe. Houser and Nailor worked on the
murals for the new Department of the Interior building in Wash.
D.C. and Houser’s work appeared in 1939 at both the Golden Gate
International Exposition in San Francisco and the New York World’s
Fair. In 1939 Houser returned to Oklahoma to attend the Indian Art
Center at Fort Sill, where he studied mural painting with Olaf Nordmark.
Eventually, in 1951, he began teaching art, first in Brigham City,
Utah and from 1962 to 1976 at the IAIA in Santa Fe, where he completed
his teaching career as head of the sculpture department.
Our current offering of Houser’s work
is a silk–screen, possibly based on the two offered by Tewa Enterprises
in 1951: left- and right-facing views of single Gaan, or Crown,
Dancers. One might almost consider it a "signature" work by Houser.
Untitled (Two Gaan, or Crown, Dancers
at a fire w/two women observing), silk-screen on bluish-green paper,
at sight 16" x 18", conservation–backed and matted, signed and dated
(copyright) 1952, lower right, $ 3,500
Dunn, Dorothy, American Indian Painting
of the Southwest and Plains Areas, Santa Fe, Univ of N. Mex.
Tanner, Clara Lee. Southwest Indian Painting,
A Changing Art, Tucson, Univ of Ariz. Press,
Bernstein, Bruce and Rushing, W. Jackson. Modern by
Tradition: American Indian Painting in the Studio Style, Santa
Fe, Museum of New Mexico Press, 1995
Seymour, Tryntje Van
Ness. Where the Rainbow Touches Down, The Heard Museum,
Phoenix, AZ 1988
1 Tanner, p. 412
2 Dunn, p. 282
3 Dunn, p. 305
4 Dunn, p. 311