A Visit to an Exhibition: Mildred Howard at the Richmond Art Center

Gallery exhibition Mildred Howard

Just got back from seeing the exhibition Mildred Howard: Spirit and Matter at the Richmond Art Center in Northern California. I thought I would write solely about her work but what really struck me was the response of the other audience members.

As I turned the corner into the gallery I saw a large circle of children sitting in the center of the room. An educator was explaining the exhibition to them, talking about blind contour drawing and how to make a viewfinder. I’ve never taught young children and was a little surprised by the assignment being presented – it seemed overly sophisticated for the age group. Looks like I was wrong.

Sculptural assemblage by Mildred Howard

The children were told to select any artwork in the exhibition and use their viewfinder to find a section to draw. They were all so eager. They scattered about the room – there was some talking and giggling but they mainly sat with great concentration, moving their viewfinder about, finding the perfect element to draw. I walked around looking at the show but really sneaking looks at their drawings – many of which I would gladly have displayed on my wall.

I suppose I learned a lesson. When I first turned the corner and saw the room filled with children and heard the lecture I felt disappointed. I wanted the exhibition to myself. I didn’t want to hear someone else’s explanations and I wanted to see the work without distractions. Rather misguided, especially when you think of the content of Howard’s work which centers around community and history.

Collage that includes photo, tickets and found ephemera

Mildred Howard is primarily known for her collages, mixed media sculptures and installations. She finds images and objects that represent a distillation of an idea. These everyday things that are more than they seem are combined to establish synergistic relationships, all part of an exploration of memory, self and community.

mixed media sculpture by Mildred Howard

Of her work Howard says, “Where poets use words and musicians use notes, I use objects and images in my work to generate a music that is visual and tangible. These objects function as mediums in both senses of the word – not only as artistic materials, but also as intermediaries between the audience and their history, surroundings and memories, both individual and collective. Like the rhythm of poets or the vibrations of music, I would like my artwork to be accessible to anyone, regardless of race, class, or language. There is a universal history – including an ongoing cycle of displacement, migration and self-reinvention – that impacts everyone on this planet, regardless of time or place. The emphasis on issues of borders, territory, and identify in my work ultimately serves to direct attention toward the absurdity of our divisions. Beyond race or gender, age or wealth, it is crucial to preserve that which unites us: our shared struggles, our fragile environment, our common humanity.”

If you’re in the San Francisco area this month I suggest a trip to the East Bay city of Richmond and a visit to the exhibition. Here’s a link for the Richmond Art Center.

The above quote comes from a wonderful museum catalog of Howard’s work, published by the Fresno Art Museum. You can access the entire catalog here…


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