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Art exhibit monumental

18 sculptures by Houser are in S.L. for Oly festival

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The spirit of the 2002 Olympics can be seen and felt now outside the Salt Lake City-County Building.

"May We Have Peace," an 11-foot statue of a young American Indian, is one of the 16 Allan Houser sculptures taking up residence on the east side of Washington Square, the green space around City Hall.

The exhibition of monumental works is part of the first wave of the Olympic Arts Festival, unfurling now through next March — and the late sculptor's son, Phillip Haozous, has high hopes.

"We want the people of this country to understand," he said, "that in my dad we have a master artist, a man who is equal to any other artist in this world."

Houser, a Warm Springs Chiracahua Apache, died in 1994. But his bronze creations are a continuing celebration of American life. When Utahns and Olympic visitors see the 16 works on Washington Square — plus two more at the Salt Lake City International Airport — "all cultures will come away with the same feeling of pride, of connection, the feeling that we were all created by the same God," Haozous said.

Several of the Houser sculptures have never been seen outside collectors' homes or museums. "Sacred Rain Arrow," a spectacular 8-foot statue, was to be placed outside the Olympic athletes' village at the University of Utah.

"But we couldn't come to terms with the University," said Raymond Grant, director of the Olympic Arts Festival.

"But to my delight, Mayor Rocky Anderson has agreed to let us place it on the grounds of the City-County Building," Grant said. "Then, after Jan. 9, we'll move it to the athletes' village, to welcome them with a message of peace."

Haozous and his assistant, Anna Montoya, are just as delighted. "This place gives it a much more public platform," Montoya said. "Here, everyone can appreciate Houser's work — whether it's someone who's sleeping on a park bench or the president of the United States."

Among all the sculptures on Washington Square, people will find their own favorites, Haozous said. Some are more abstract than others. "I think people will come up to these and wonder," he said, adding that Houser didn't always seek a particular interpretation of his work. "My father goes in here and in here" — Haozous placed his hand at his forehead and then over his heart — "to make something pleasing and powerful."

After Houser's sculptures leave Salt Lake City March 18, 2002, they will scatter across the United States: Some will return to the Allan Houser Sculpture Garden outside Santa Fe, while one, "Unconquered II," will go to an American Indian research center in Oklahoma City, and then in 2004 it will be part of the inaugural exhibition at the Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

One work by Haozous is part of the exhibition. It's a life-size bronze statue of his father, appearing for the first time in Salt Lake City.

"I thought it would be nice if he could go and be there at his big show during the Olympics," Haozous said. "So, here he is."

Haozous was Houser's family name, but he changed it, his son said, "to make it easier" for people to pronounce. His father was born in 1914 near Apache, Okla., studied art at the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico and in 1940 was commissioned to paint murals for the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C.

He received a Guggenheim art fellowship in 1949 and numerous commissions from museums across the West, and then became an artist-in-residence and teacher at the Intermountain School in Brigham City.

From the 1960s until his death, Houser sculpted monumental bronzes of American Indians, inspired by stories his grandparents told. The sculptures in the Olympic exhibition span a decade, and some of them were only maquettes or molds when Houser died.

"Unconquered II" had been partly cast in 1994; when Haozous was notified 20 months ago that the Olympic Arts Festival wanted to mount the Houser exhibition, the son finished assembling the father's work. At nearly 10 feet high, "Unconquered II" is being installed this week on Washington Square, along with "Homeward Bound," "Spirit of the Mountains," "Morning Prayer," "Ready to Dance," "Spirit of the Wind" and the 10 other monuments.

This exhibition can reawaken us, Haozous said, to the grace the American Indian people have held onto through centuries of struggle. His people have long been maligned as uncivilized — Haozous remembers that from his time at Box Elder High School in the late 1950s. "I said I was never coming back to Utah, after that. But (Olympic Arts Festival organizers) invited me," he said.

So he came and has been given a warm welcome. "People are so amazed, and pleased, and proud to see these sculptures in Salt Lake City." Haozous has hoped his father would become known as one of the greatest American artists who ever lived. "Thanks to the Olympics, we're going to get there."


E-mail: durbani@desnews.com