The acclaimed Palo Alto Art Center will present Clear Story, a new temporary site-specific installation by Bay Area artist Mildred Howard, opening September 10 and on view through August, 2012 at King Plaza in front of Palo Alto City Hall. The walk-in scale piece engages viewers in the artist’s striking re-imagining of traditional bottle houses of West Africa and the American South that form part of her exploration of her own and America’s historical, artistic, cultural and spiritual heritage. Tying the installation to the architectural and social roots of the Palo Alto community, Howard has drawn inspiration from iconic Eichler houses that are hallmarks of many of the area’s neighborhoods. There will be a conversation with the artist Saturday, September 10, at 3 pm in City Hall Council Chambers, followed by a reception in City Hall lobby at 4 pm. Clear Story is part of the Palo Alto Art Center’s On the Road programs that take the Center’s activities into the community during its year-long closure for a $7.9 million transformation with re-opening in the summer of 2012. For more information, visit www.cityofpaloalto.org/artcenter.
Clear Story represents a large-scale, monumental bottle house, temporarily sited at the King Plaza. The structure will be approximately 12 feet wide, 14 feet long, 10 feet high. The work features thousands of intimately scaled bottles, fused together and then assembled in a wood armature. Like all of Howard’s bottle houses, Clear Story will explore the unique quality of glass to reflect and refract light, drawing on her long experience as a science educator at San Francisco’s Exploratorium. In West African and Southern culture, bottle houses were often created to protect either the grave or the home against bad spirits and to retain and shelter good spirits. For Howard, bottle houses are part of a centuries-old tradition and reflect a career-long interest in respecting and honoring her ancestors.
Mildred Howard views the role of the artist as that of a storyteller. In telling her stories, she draws upon images that are shaped by memory, history, family, identity and place. Her artwork often features found objects and photographs as well as personal memorabilia.
A Bay Area native, Howard was born in San Francisco in 1945 and moved to Berkeley in 1947. Her parents were respected and influential activists. Through her artwork, teaching, and community involvement, Howard continues her parent’s legacy of social activism, championing equal rights and free speech for all. Howard is an accomplished artist whose work has been featured in exhibitions at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC and the New Museum in New York and is included in the collections of the Oakland Museum of California, the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington and the San Jose Museum of Art.
The installation will be on view for a year.