Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


april 7, 2001 - Issue 33



N.M. Foundation Wants Indian School Mural Saved


by Kristen Moulton Salt Lake Tribune

BRIGHAM CITY -- A New Mexico foundation has entered the fray over the planned demolition of the Intermountain Indian School's gymnasium, which features a 6-foot-by-12-foot mural by renowned Indian artist Allan Houser.

The Allan Houser Foundation, based in Santa Fe, has written letters to nearly a dozen senators and representatives, Utah's governor and the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, trying to enlist support for saving the mural.

Houser, who painted the mural directly onto the plaster wall of the gymnasium foyer, taught for 11 years at the boarding school, where thousands of children, mostly Navajos, were educated from 1952 until 1984.

"This mural is so important to American history, to Utah history and especially to Native American history," said Bob Haozous, one of Houser's five sons and the executive director of the foundation that has more than 12,000 pieces of Houser's art. "It should be saved."

The owner of the 90-acre school campus, New York-based Cape Advisers, has transformed several of the abandoned school buildings into townhouses, but has begun demolishing the rest. It doesn't make economic sense to rehabilitate them, says partner and project manager Matt Petersen.

Single family homes, townhouses, apartments and some shops are planned for the development, dubbed Eagle Village in honor of the school's mascot.

Petersen, who earlier said he planned to demolish the gym near the west end of the campus by summer, said Tuesday he will give the foundation more time to find a benefactor. "I'll work with them as long as I can," Petersen said.

Cape Advisers already has saved about 20 other paintings on doors and walls of the old school, and may consider donating the Houser mural to the foundation, he said.

Other Houser murals in the school's auditorium theater were painted over decades ago and the auditorium itself was later demolished.

The gym mural, which shows a Navajo man on a galloping horse against a backdrop of mesas and other riders, has become the ace in the hole for Francelle Boman, a Brigham City woman who wants to save the entire gym.

Boman runs a concession stand at the gym, which has been used for basketball tournaments, clinics and indoor soccer the past three years. She wants to keep the gym open for the city's youths, but realizes the mural may be the only asset valuable enough to stave off the wrecking ball.

She contacted the foundation, as well as the Utah Division of History, which is weighing whether to get involved.

On Thursday night, Boman will present the Brigham City Council petitions signed by more than 400 people, urging the council to save the gym. The council previously approved the developer's master plan for the property.

Haozous said the Houser Foundation does not want to interfere with the developer's plans and has no money of its own to save the mural. "Our goal is to get it donated to the National Museum of the American Indian. The bottom line is we want to preserve it."

Nelson Foss, the foundation's archivist, said removing the mural would be costly, probably around $40,000.

He said Petersen has agreed to give the foundation three weeks. "If we can't do it by then, we're probably not going to get it done," he said.

Houser was a Chiricahua Apache whose ancestors lived in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. Born in 1913, he became a world-famous painter and sculptor. He was the first Indian to receive the National Medal for the Arts, from President Bush in 1992. He died in 1994.

He was selected as a featured American Indian artist for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Twenty of Houser's works will be on display next winter in Salt Lake City, Haozous said in his letter to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and others.

"This international recognition of one of the most important 20th-century American artists is seemingly incompatible and in direct contrast to the desecration of Allan Houser's mural as a part of Utah's history," the letter said.

A Hatch spokesman said the letter is being reviewed by a staffer in charge of Indian affairs.

Last week, the developer offered to pay whatever it costs to rescue the mural, which was scheduled to be reduced to rubble along with the gymnasium that houses it and the rest of the abandoned Indian school.

"I am flabbergasted," Nelson Foss said Tuesday. Foss is curator of a foundation dedicated to the works of the late Allan Houser, who painted the mural in 1954 while teaching at the school. "I just heard five minutes ago. It's amazing. It's philanthropic."

The 6- by 12-foot mural of a Navajo horseman is painted directly on the plaster wall of the gym's entryway and could cost about $40,000 to remove. One appraisal pegs the mural's value at about $50,000.

"I don't know how big of a task it's going to be to have the thing removed," said Matt Petersen, a partner with Cape Advisors Inc., which owns the property. "Hopefully it will be simple, but like everything else it probably won't be."



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