HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE CITY'S COLLECTION: ATROPOS KEY
Alex Irrera, Civic Art + Design Assistant
As summer beings to roll in, Houston Arts Alliance (HAA) is rolling out our new series of blog posts highlighting works in the City of Houston's Art Collection. HAA's Civic Art + Design department is conversing, deliberating, and filtering through our records to bring you some old and (hopefully) new favorite public artworks to revisit or discover.
High atop Miller Outdoor Theatre's big, climbable hill sits artist Hannah Stewart's mysterious yet memorable work Atropos Key. The 11-foot high bronze sculpture depicts a figure of Greek mythology--Atropos, one of the three sisters of fate. Although she is typically pictured holding scissors (to cut the threads of mortal life), this particular symbolism does not appear in Stewart's rendering. Instead, Atropos' form is abstracted, her body depicted as a pentagon, her arms its lateral points, outstretched like the tines of a star. Her face appears as a rhombus, topped with spiked forms that radiate in a crown-like effect. While Atropos’ stance is wide and strong, her torso is partially hollowed to reveal a simplified rib cage and a hanging bulb—perhaps her heart, stomach, or Stewart's materialization of the figure's center, core, or soul.
Commissioned for the Hermann Park hill in 1972, the Atropos Key sculpture is possibly as enigmatic as its maker. Born in Alabama, Hannah Stewart first arrived in Houston in 1955.
She made a career for herself as an artist and as an arts educator, teaching at prestigious institutions such as the University of St. Thomas and University of Houston. Known for being intelligent and mysterious, as well as unpredictable and challenging, Stewart eventually received her first solo show with the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston at the suggestion of Director Jim Harithas, an advocate for Texas artists. Although she found success in galleries and museums around the country, Stewart perhaps felt under-recognized by the local community (whose majority gaze was planted firmly on the New York art scene) toward the end of the 1980s. She abruptly left Houston in 1987, eventually landing in Albuquerque, where she continued to work until her death in 2010 at the age of 86.
As a major sculpture from an influential artist in local art history, Atropos Key is a piece that the City of Houston is fortunate to possess. Facing the stage of a theater, it is a highly visible, thematic enhancement to a space of artistic creation and social gathering. While the mythological Atropos is traditionally a slightly ominous character, Stewart's focus on her cosmic presence and spiritual force makes this sculpture a reassurance, rather than a threat, to the crowds who seat themselves around her on the Hermann Park hill. Atropos’ simple but strong form allows the sculpture to standout against the big, blue sky—her wide open arms welcoming visitors to gaze across the park toward artistic inspiration or up into the clouds toward the mysteries of space.