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Traveling On: Sculptor John Houser Readies New Works

By Myrna Zanetell / Special to El Paso Inc.

As a sculptor and painter of note, John Houser might be among the first to admit that the life of an artist is never easy.

In fact, it?s a bit like being a contestant on the hit TV production, ?Survivor.? The show?s continued popularity is proof positive that the public admires those who strive to achieve their goals even in the face of adversity, so Houser is definitely in good company.

The son of sculptor Ivan Houser, who assisted Gutzon Borglum during the creation of Mount Rushmore, and an artist dedicated to portraying the human condition through experience, Houser already possessed a solid reputation when he moved to El Paso in the early 1980s.

However, his greatest artistic challenge lay ahead in his desire to create memorials in bronze honoring those travelers through the Pass of the North who shaped 400 years of history in this region.

Inspired by the Tom Lea book, ?Calendar of the Twelve Travelers Through the Pass of the North,? Houser envisioned placing 12 heroic bronze figures in close proximity, creating an historic sculpture walk in downtown El Paso.

Pleased with this concept, the city commissioned him to begin ?The Twelve Travelers Memorial of the Southwest? in 1988. However, a six-year ?birthing process? followed, before the first bronze in the series, Fray Garcia de San Francisco, founder of the Mision de Nuestra de Senora de Guadalupe, came to fruition.

Dedicated on Sept. 26, 1996, and installed in the heart of the city on the Pioneer Plaza, so far this is the only sculpture of the series that?s Downtown.

Another decade of conflict over the funding and final placement would ensue before the second in the series, his monumental equestrian sculpture of Don Juan Oate, but called ?The Equestrian,? found a home at the entry to El Paso International Airport in 2007.

Much less controversy has surrounded the creation of the third image, Susan Shelby Magoffin, the first known Anglo-American woman on the Santa Fe Trail. She passed through El Paso along with her husband, Samuel Magoffin, brother of famed Santa Fe trader, James Wiley Magoffin.

Read the full El Paso Inc. article here.

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