Profile: Mildred Howard (1945-)

Mildred Howard is an African-American artist known primarily for her sculptural installation and mixed-media assemblages.


Early life

Howard was born in 1945 to Rolly and Mable Howard in San Francisco, California, and raised in South Berkeley, California. She received an Associate of Arts Degree and Certificate in Fashion Arts from the College of Alameda in 1977 and an MFA in 1985 from the Fiberworks Center from the Textile Arts at John F. Kennedy University that was located in Orinda, California. Howard’s parents had an antiques business and were politically active in labor unions, civil rights struggles, and other community issues. Howard has lived in Berkeley since 1949. She was a member of SNCC and CORE and participated as a youth in protests against segregation in Berkeley schools.


Howard began her adult creative life as a dancer, before working in visual art. In the early 1980s, Howard’s installations took the form of manipulated windows from storefronts and churches. They later evolved into constructed habitats that provided walk-in environments. For example, in 1990 Howard created a house made of engraved bottles and sand in the atrium of the Afro-American Museum in Los Angeles; this work was inspired by the book Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson and makes visual reference to the bottle houses that Johnson describes in the book. In 2005, she fabricated and installed a house made of red glass at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington. In 2019, Ms. Howard’s work “TAP: Investigation of Memory” was exhibited at the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibit was a powerful multimedia installation that examines themes of identity, church culture, gentrification, dance, activism, and more.

Howard has created numerous public installation works in the Bay Area, including Three Shades of Blue, a collaboration with poet Quincy Troupe on the Fillmore Street bridge, and The Music of Language on Glide Memorial’s family housing building on Mason Street, both in San Francisco. In 2017, a rent increase forced her to move out of the Berkeley (CA) studio where she had lived and worked for 18 years.

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