In Santa Fe, New Mexico there lives a vibrant artist community that has impacted the North American and global art world in many ways over the last century. As the second oldest city in the United States it has seen American masters such as Georgia O’Keefe rise to prominence depicting the Southwestern scenes throughout New Mexico that still continue to thrill collectors world-wide. The prominence of these few famous artists, however, is at times so great as to force other great artists from the region to quietly ply their trade in relative anonymity. Unconquered is a short documentary of one such artist and his influence on both Native American and modern American art. The HouzerHazous story begins in the 1860s and depicts the family’s progress from a proud Chiricahua Apache family of storytellers in Oklahoma to a multi-talented artistic family in Santa Fe New Mexico who is widely considered some of the most influential Native American painters and Modernist sculptors of the 20th century.
It is clear from the opening credits that the story holds special meaning to both those in front of and behind the camera. Originally commissioned as part of an exhibit of Allan Houser’s work at the Oklahoma History Center, the film draws in veteran art critics and average Americans alike with it’s direct and honest story telling. Although the duration of the entire documentary comes in at thirty-two minutes, the layout of the piece leaves the viewer feeling entertained and wanting more. The subject matter is emotionally charged at times but an appropriate level of humor keeps the experience light and enjoyable.
Directed and written by Oklahoma native Bryan Beasley, and narrated by Val Kilmer, the viewer is immediately immersed from the outset in a rich cultural tapestry that describes Allan Houser’s rise to fame and the subsequent success of his two sons as they continue their father’s work to this day. Allan Houser has some very famous pieces to his name but perhaps the most significant part of his life were the dramatic changes he brought to the concept of Native American art during his tenure at the Santa Fe based Institute of Native American Arts from 1962-1975.
Prior to Allan’s tenure, a Native American artist was very limited to what was considered authentic style. One dimensional pieces featuring over-done cowboy and Indian scenes were accepted as the only avenues for financial success. Native American art classes at the now very famous Santa Fe Institute of Native American Arts were not even taught by Native Americans at the time Allan attended.
Mr. Houser repeatedly rejected these notions of acceptable Native American iconography in favor of a greater vision that, like all great artists, came from somewhere within his heart and soul. He successfully broke away from numerous stereotypes as he demonstrated to the world time and time again not what Native American art was, but rather what Native American art could be. He emerged, as the documentary title itself so aptly puts it, “Unconquered” as both an artist and a Native American. His direct impact on generations of hopeful Indian artists that studied under his tutelage cannot be understated.
The short piece has enjoyed success at numerous film festivals around the world. Distinctions include Best Short Documentary and Documentary Short Audience Awards at the 2009 Red Rock film festival. This reviewer attended the showing at the 2009 Santa Fe film festival where it was also nominated. I left the theater in genuine awe of the artist, the film crew, and the story. A story worthy of a full-length biographical feature film!
Here’s hoping someday Hollywood agrees however, until then, Bryan Beasley and the entire Six Fourteen production crew have delivered a well crafted and expertly shot appetizer. It can be viewed as part of the Allan Houser exhibit at The Gilcrease Museum of the Americas in Tulsa, Oklahoma through March 31, 2010 or bought directly from the Six Fourteen Productions website.
Journalist Aaron Prunier covers everything interesting in the New Mexico/Albuquerque area, if you have something cool for him to check out- you can contact him at aprunier @gmail.com