Haskell to loan statue for Smithsonian exhibit

A sculpture from Haskell Indian Nations University is being sent to Washington, D.C., as part of opening events for the Smithsonian Institution's new National Museum of the American Indian.

"Haskell is honored to be a part of the museum's grand opening," said university spokeswoman Lori Tapahonso.

Plans call for a Smithsonian-hired crew to pick up "Comrade in Mourning," a two-ton marble sculpture by Allan Houser, this summer. It will remain on exhibit for a year.

"This is an extremely important piece," said Truman Lowe, curator of contemporary art at the National Museum of the American Indian. "Allan Houser was a very prominent Indian artist who has had a tremendous influence on succeeding generations of native artists."

The museum's grand opening is set for Sept. 21 in Washington.

For its inaugural exhibit, the museum's contemporary arts section will feature 160 works by Houser and George Morrison, also a sculptor.

Haskell Alumni Assn. in 1947 commissioned Houser, a Chiricahua Apache, to do a sculpture in honor of Haskell students killed during World War II.

Completed a year later, the statute became a fixture on the Haskell campus. It's now in the lobby of the university auditorium.

"As far as anyone knows, it's never been outside the confines of the college," Lowe said. "So this is its first trip outside the vicinity. Not many people have seen it."

The statute depicts an American Indian man standing erect, his eyes focused straight ahead. A plain shawl covers all but his neck and face. An upside-down feathered headdress lies at his feet.

The sculpture is about 6 feet tall, atop a 3-foot concrete base.

"We don't know how they're going to get it out of here," Tapahonso said. "But they're sure they can do it. Still, it's huge."

Tapahonso said Haskell would try to include a viewing of the sculpture in Lawrence's Downtown Friday Gallery Art Walk set for April 23.

"We want people to be able to see it," she said.

Houser attended Santa Fe Indian School in the late 1930s, becoming well-known for his paintings and murals. He died in 1994.

"'Comrade in Mourning' was his first large-scale public sculpture," Lowe said. "It truly established him as a sculptor of national prominence; prior to that he was primarily a painter."

Houser's parents were among the Chiricahua Apache held as prisoners of war for 27 years on reservations in Florida and Oklahoma. While captive, his father was an interpreter for Geronimo.

Houser, who did not attend Haskell, was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush.

A professional conservator from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo. will clean the statue in the next few weeks.

"It should be pure white," said Lowe, a member of the Wisconsin-based Ho-Chunk tribe who taught sculpture at Emporia State University from 1972-74.

The National Museum of the American Indian's collection includes 4 million cataloged items: ceramics, masks, dolls, carvings, textiles, featherwork, beadwork and jewelry.

Officials expect more than 4 million visitors in the museum's first year.


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