Howard Mallory, 1930-2012

Howard Mallory, Untitled, n.d., South Side Community Art Center, Chicago, Illinois.

Adorned with pieces of cut glass, car decals, and raffia, the three wide-eyed faces of Howard Mallory’s Untitled stare intently out from a heavy wooden frame. The sculpture was purchased at one of the Center’s annual art auctions and was later accessioned into the Center’s permanent collection. When the buyer failed to retrieve the work from the Center, Mallory requested that the work be returned to him. In a note to the Board of Directors, Howard Seals, former Director at the Center, wrote that Mallory originally “wanted the piece returned to his control—so that he could destroy it.”[1] In the end, the work was accessioned into the permanent collection, where it remains as an impressive example of the late artist’s imaginative works.

Howard Mallory’s “Super Lady” was exhibited in “5 in Search of a Black Aesthetic” in 1969. Photo from Chicago Daily Defender, June 14, 1969.

Mallory was a sculptor, working primarily in ceramics early in his career. He first exhibited with AfriCOBRA in 5 in Search of a Black Aesthetic at  WJ Studio and Gallery in 1969, and became a member of the group in 1972.[2]As a member, he worked to produce prints of the artists’ works so they could be inexpensively distributed to a wide audience, fulfilling a founding principle of the collective.[3] In 1973, he exhibited his ceramics and sandcastings at the Art Center twice in 1973; first in the Craft Show, and later in Africa-cobra: Paintings, Prints, Weavings.[4]

Mallory began making sculptures from found objects in the 1990s after he became blind due to glaucoma.[5] The constructions combine reclaimed detritus with everyday objects and materials to create portraits that refer to the designs of African masks. These later works continued to embody the principles laid out by AfriCOBRA at its founding. The mask-like constructions memorialized notable African American figures. Installed along the outside wall of the garage-turned-studio behind his house, Mallory’s work is “art for the people” at street-level.

Howard Mallory’s South Side Chicago studio. Photo by Gerald Williams, http://africobra.com/Image12.html.

Upon visiting Mallory a few years before his death, Gerald Williams, a fellow member of AfriCOBRA, commented:

I gazed at the numerous compositions of wood, metal, glass, stone, string, mirrors, plastic, and cloth with their iconic preciseness, directness and mystical qualities. Eyes and teeth made of broken glass glittered and gleamed in the auburn and indigo shadows beckoning the late September afternoon sun. Here was the exemplary “far seeing room” of a man whom time has blessed with good visionary hands that once shaped lumps of earth into pottery, but which now construct fascinating personages out of whatever materials he can find to transform.[6]

Untitled embodies this aspect of Mallory’s artistic practice: the transformation of the everyday into the visionary, and the ordinary into the monumental. Yet Mallory’s direct address through humble materials and alley exhibitions kept it grounded in the neighborhood. As David Lusenhop, owner of Lusenhop Fine Art in Detroit and a collector of Mallory’s work, noted, “He remained on the South Side of Chicago his entire life. He believed in the community and its future.”[7]  Mallory made art primarily for the community that inspired it, and his work is a fitting addition to the Center’s collection.


[1] Howard E. Seals, Memo to Board of Directors, May 7, 2008, SSCAC, Chicago, Illinois.

[2] Gerald Williams, “Presenting Howard Mallory,” http://africobra.com/HowardPage1.html.

[3] Barbara Jones Hogu, “Inaugurating AfriCOBRA: History, Philosophy, and Aesthetics,” NKA: Journal of Contemporary African Art 90 (Spring 2012): 90-97.

[4] Flyer, SSCAC Part III, Box 20, Folder 1973; Grace N. Leaming, “President’s Annual Report: 1973, South Side Community Art Center: Chicago,” SSCAC Part III, Box 20, Administrative: Board of Directors, Folder 1973(1), Chicago, Illinois.

[5] Graydon Megan, “Howard Mallory, 1930-2012: Blind artist specialized in ceramics and masks made of everyday things,” Chicago Tribune, November 2, 2012.

[6] Gerald Williams, “Presenting Howard Mallory,” http://africobra.com/HowardPage1.html.

[7] Maureen O’Donnell, “Chicago man was part of influential black artists group,” Chicago Sun Times, October 19, 2012.

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