Over the course of a number of decades, Mildred Howard has established herself as an artist capable of making no end of sophisticated and deeply nuanced interventions. An abiding attachment to the ways in which we perceive and construct history lies at the core of her multi-disciplinary practice. Concurrently, her work stimulates us to new understandings of the contemporary world around us and our place within it. Howard’s preferred method of approaching her work—whether individual construction, installation, or public art—is to utilize the found image and the found object as a central component of her practice. In this regard, her singular art practice has utilized photographs drawn from her family albums through to all manner of objects reflective of the evolving nature of 20th and 21st century history, culture, and popular culture. In so doing, she is able to fashion intelligent and critical comment on that most fiendishly enigmatic, yet unavoidably important state of being that we refer to as identity.
Mildred Howard mines multiple histories—be they her own, her family’s, her community’s, or her nation’s—in order to fashion new interventions that cogently reflect on those histories. Consider, for example, her use of that most everyday of objects, the glass bottle. Immediately, when considering Howard’s fascinating bottle houses, the most perceptive amongst her audiences will call to mind references to glass bottles, usually of colored glass, that were traditionally used in the making of bottle trees, associated with hoodoo and historically found in the southern United States, amongst communities of African Americans. In turn, considerations of hoodoo or conjure lead us to reflect on manifestations of traditional African American folk spirituality that represent a fascinating and arresting amalgamation of West African, European, and Native American spiritual traditions. Reflections on these things will, in turn, lead perceptive audiences to all manner of histories of slavery and abolition, even as audiences marvel at the formal and spatial dimensions and luminosity of Howard’s astonishing bottle houses.
We have much to thank Mildred Howard for, particularly the ways in which so much of her art focuses on such potent subject matter, rich with symbolism, enabling her to create installations and other works of profound aesthetic and cultural significance.
Mildred Howard: Collective Memory, Fresno Art Museum, Fresno, California, September 26 2014 – January 4 2015, “Afterword”, brochure text: