Mildred Howard. Home Is a Vessel for Memory

Clip from an interview with Mildred Howard regarding her work Abode: Sanctuary for the Familia(r) (1994) at the San José Museum of Art, 2009. Video by San José Museum of Art.

Through her work as an educator at the intersection of art and science at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Mildred Howard finds that “everything you need to know about a particular thing exists within that thing or object.”1 In her bottle houses—wood-framed shelters with walls made from stacked colored glass bottles—bottles are objects of metaphor, material history, and physical dispersal of light. When she made her first installation with the material, Memory Garden (1990), during an artist residency at Headlands Center for the Arts, Howard was developing teacher curriculum about the physics of light and color, investigating what happens when light passes through an object. She was also reading James Weldon Johnson’s The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man (1912), which recounts the scene of a young boy digging up glass bottles that appear to be growing out of the ground—a familiar sight in the southern United States, where bottles are placed in yards and trees to keep bad spirits away. A house made of blue glass bottles, Abode: Sanctuary for the Familia(r) (1994) is based on Howard’s imagination of slave quarters. Here, translucent bottles are metaphors for the collection of memory and the history of slavery.

  1. Mildred Howard, in Peter Selz, “Spirit and Matter: Conversation with Mildred Howard,” Sculpture 34, no. 10 (December 2015): 40. ↩︎