Artworks of the Week

Mildred Howard

Mildred Howard works in multiple forms, including collage, assemblage, sculpture, and installation. Houses—which range from small scale to actual size—are a recurrent subject in her practice, and each references a specific place, site or idea. Her materials often include common found objects such as bottles and silverware, evoking a sense of domesticity. In the work 3219, the artist mounts wine glasses and bottles of various sizes on a steel frame.

Howard’s first glass house created in 1990 was inspired by the bottle houses described by African-American writer James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) in his Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man. The novel, published in 1912, describes a boy who grew up in a home surrounded by bottles, placed neck down into the dirt, which he believed grew like flowers. In various African cultures, bottles placed in front of homes represent protection and safekeeping. Howard’s bottle houses also suggest places of reflection and safekeeping, as well as opportunities for discovering and reflecting upon one’s own history.

Born in San Francisco, Howard was raised in Berkeley, California where she became politically active in the civil rights movement. A dancer before becoming a visual artist, she earned her MFA in 1985 from John F. Kennedy University, Orinda, California and has taught at a number of universities. She has received many awards and fellowships, including the Joan Mitchell Foundation Award, the Lee Krasner Award in recognition of a lifetime of artistic achievement, and an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts from the San Francisco Art Institute. She continues to live and work in the Bay Area and remains active in the community.

Mildred Howard (American, born 1945), 3219, 2004, steel, glass bottles, glue, 30 ½ x 30 x 26 ½ inches. Gift of David Kaplan and Glenn Ostergaard, 2019.125.