On the Scene | August 2001

navajo blanket. southwest art.
navajo blanket

A Brigham City, UT, mural by celebrated Native American artist Allan Houser has been spared the wrecking ball, thanks to the efforts of some local residents and the Allan Houser Foundation.

The mural, depicting several Navajo riders in front of mesas, is located on the gymnasium wall of the now-closed Intermountain Indian School. Thousands of students, primarily Navajos, attended the school between 1952 and 1984. Houser taught there for 11 years in the 1950s and ’60s and painted several murals throughout the school. The gymnasium mural is the only one remaining—the others were destroyed as other parts of the school were torn down. Earlier this year, the gymnasium was also slated for demolition.

Nelson Foss, curator for the Allan Houser Foundation, says he first learned about the mural’s plight in March, when Francelle Boman, a local woman who ran a concession stand in the gym, called him. “She was trying to save the gym and found the mural,” he says. “We then called the contractor to explain the value of the piece.”

After that, Foss and foundation executive director Bob Haozous launched a letter-writing campaign, appealing to Utah Senator Orrin Hatch as well as other government officials in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and other states. Their work paid off—the contractor, Brigham City-based Cape Advisors, has agreed to save the mural.

Houser painted this mural on the gymnasium wall of a Utah school. southwest art.
Houser painted this mural on the gymnasium wall of a Utah school.

“There are only a few companies that know how to remove murals in situations like this,” says Cape Advisors project manager Matt Peterson. “We are in the process of deciding which one to go with.”

The ultimate fate of the mural is still undecided, Peterson says, as the company decides which step to take next. Foss says the foundation would like to be involved in the mural’s placement. “Our primary focus right now is to start fund-raising or get a grant so we could purchase the mural and have a say in where it is placed,” he says.

In addition to the mural’s artistic importance, Foss says the work has great cultural significance. “This place was a boarding school for Native American children. They were dressed in uniforms, had to cut their hair, and were not allowed to speak in their Native languages,” he explains. “Our theory is that Allan painted these murals to give the students a visual image of their home.”

U.S. Mint releases new American Buffalo coin
Buffalo are back. In June, the U.S. Mint released a new commemorative silver dollar featuring artist James Earle Fraser’s famous buffalo image. The image originally appeared on the buffalo nickel, which was minted from 1913 to 1938. The obverse of the new coin features a profile of an American Indian. A portion of the proceeds from the uncirculated coin will go to the completion of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, as well as museum endowment and educational outreach programs. For purchasing information call 800.872.6468 or visit www.usmint.gov.

Nelson receives scholarship
Albuquerque artist Ben Nelson is barely out of his teens, but he’s already won several awards at previous Indian Markets. Now Nelson is about to begin a new chapter in his life as a college freshman. The young painter, who graduated from Sandia High School in May, has received an art scholarship to study at the University of Oklahoma in Norman this fall. He says that he plans to study political science and Native American studies in addition to fine art. Over the summer, Nelson painted a fiberglass horse for New Mexico’s Trail of Painted Ponies exhibit and participated in the Red Earth Native American Cultural Festival in Oklahoma City, where he showed his works alongside those of his father, Yellowman.

Auction Report
The May 19 sale of Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas totaled more than $6.7 million for Sotheby’s New York. One of the top sellers, a classic Navajo man’s wearing blanket from the estate of Joseph Henry Gosnell III, fetched $401,750, far exceeding the pre-sale high estimate of $30,000. A pot by the late Margaret Tafoya sold for $18,000, more than double the high estimate; a piece by potter Tony Da sold for $21,450 against a pre-sale estimate of $8,000.

Featured in August 2001