About The Artwork
The work of Warm Springs Chiricahua Apache sculptor and painter Allan Houser was chosen for the inaugural exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC for good reason. One of the best-known contemporary Native American artists, his art blends Native subject matter with a modernist style learned from European artists and in turn influenced generations of painters and sculptors. Chiricahua Love Song, with its emphasis on simple forms and the dignity of the figure, is a quintessential example of Houser’s approach.
Born in Oklahoma, the artist’s family hailed from the group of Apache aligned with Geronimo. During the 1930s, Houser studied art at the Santa Fe Indian School, where he quickly garnered accolades. He received commissions from the Federal Works Progress Administration and the Interior Department, and in 1948, created a memorial dedicated to the fallen Native American soldiers of World War II. Located at Haskell Indian School in Lawrence, Kansas, Comrade in Mourning was the first such project awarded to a Native American artist. Soon after the Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe) was established in 1961, Houser joined the faculty as head of the sculpture department.
Houser sculpted Chiricahua Love Song when he had retired from teaching, during a productive period of a prolific life. The title, reinforced by the wide-open shape of the sitter’s mouth, may refer to Apache songs sung at specific times of the day. As explained by anthropologist Morris Edward Opler, whose study of the southwest Native Americans investigated the cultural and social life of the Apaches,
The round-dance songs and the partner-dance songs may or may not have words, but the songs of the morning dance always have words. These morning-dance songs are the favorites. ‘The morning songs, the love songs, sound beautiful. They are high pitched. We like them best of all. People just fall in love … singing them.’1
Houser reveals the face of his singing figure by sweeping the long hair back over the shoulders. The figure stands tall, wrapped in a blanket that exposes only his head, right hand, and feet and serves to simplify the form. Houser includes a small drum in the figure’s hands as well as a curved-top drumstick. The artist began working in bronze during the late 1960s, creating small and later larger scale sculptures. In Chiricahua Love Song, he enlivens the surface with a warm, brownish-black patina.
President George H.W. Bush awarded Houser the National Medal of Arts in 1992, two years before the artist’s death.
Assistant Professor, Frederik Meijer Honors College, Grand Valley State University
- Morris Edward Opler, An Apache Life-Way: The Economic, Social, and Religious Institutions of the Chiricahua Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1941), 125.