Memorial Minute for Robert Howard, Art Department (UNC, Chapel Hill) Written by Richard Kinnaird and Dennis Zaborowski
Robert Howard, who died in June 1999 after a lengthy illness, served on the faculty from 1951 until his retirement in 1988.
The artist was raised in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a small town near Tulsa. He attended Phillips University for one year before entering the Army where he served as an anti aircraft artilleryman with General Patton's forces in France and Germany. After World War II, he returned to the University of Tulsa graduating with a Master of Art in Sculpture in 1949. Howard returned to Europe for one year post-graduate study with Osip Zadkin in Paris. After completing his studies, Howard left Europe for the United States.
Robert Howard's exhibition record started in 1947 with local and regional exhibitions in Oklahoma and Colorado. This continued until he joined the faculty of the University of North Carolina and presented his first solo exhibition at Person Hall in 1951. After coming to Chapel Hill his exhibiting range increased by including competitive exhibits along the east coast of the U.S.A. from Florida to New York City, on to Massachusetts and Maine, out into the Midwest, showing in Minneapolis and the west coast at the Los Angeles County Museum in 1967.
Major exhibitions after the mid-sixties include The Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. During this period, Robert Howard had two solo shows in New York City at the Royal Marks Gallery. During the last years of the sixties, Howard was included in shows that summarized that period or scanned the second quarter of the 20th century of the southeastern region. Noteworthy among the galleries were: Gallery of Contemporary Art at Winston-Salem and Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, the New York Museum of Modern Art, Portland Museum of Art, North Carolina Museum of Art, Duke Art Museum, Cranbrook Academy Museum, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Detroit Institute of Art, Albright Knox Gallery, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, many individuals and North Carolina National Bank now Bank of America. Along with the public and private collections, his work was selected for traveling exhibitions: Six mid-western sculptors; Sculpture Midwest, 153rd Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and the American Federation of Art Traveling exhibition (to 15 school galleries and museums). Then there were many exhibits at major museums and galleries. Perhaps the most noteworthy of the many was the 153rd Annual Exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
After five years in Chapel Hill, Howard's welded steel sculptures were complex aggregations removed from earth by a stalk or column. Howard called these forms landscapes, incorporating a relationship to a structural process but still showing some mimicry and including forms of personal invention. Landscape I, and Landscape II in 1957 began the series that continued through Landscape XIII, done in 1963 which shows the elimination of mimicry and referencing welded steel and geodesic structure. By that time the forms were containments of energy with no hint of plant life, weather systems or a sedimentary structure. The rounded containers were painted in colors which suggested a reservoir of potential energy. This change in quality continued through the 1960's and into the 1970's.
The works of the 70's were the most major of his career: the beautiful marquee which is in the permanent collection of the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; and the monumental sculpture installed at the Federal Building at Louisville, Kentucky. This last work was accomplished by the Lippencott Company and was partially paid for by a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts.
Howard's encouragement of the student to assume greater amounts of responsibility extended to students outside the Art Department, to the General College where he worked as an undergraduate advisor for 10 years (1954 - 1965). There he encouraged students to see and to shape their program. The years of making sculptures that were excellently welded, formally beautiful and quietly powerful along with getting students involved with their lives, by making art or planning their lives in school and after, was reflected in an observation Robert made about being in Patton's Army. "Before each battle the soldiers would dress in Class A uniforms. Their attitudes were always elevated and the purposes were always clear."
Submitted by Deborah Padgett