The House That Will Not Pass for Any Color Than Its Own, 2010. Painted steel and laminated glass, installation view. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Object Lessons: Mildred Howard

When I got this commission from the County of Sacramento and the Sacramento Airport, they requested a house—something consistent with my many previous house-shaped sculptures and installations. I began by conducting research, reading the letters of those who came to California during the Gold Rush. The letters were about what California was like, the differences between the East and West Coasts, and the writers’ day-to-day experiences. From there, I decided on two colors: purple and red. Purple is considered a royal color, and the combination of the two looks really great.

Some of the letters that I read were disturbing, yet informative, because they were overtly racist against the Asian, African American, and Latin populations. How does one use that kind of information in something that’s going to be so public? I decided to take those letters and blow them up exponentially—make them huge—and then cut them up into fragments. For the project, we have hand-blown aubergine glass laminated to clear glass, and then fragments of the letters are sandwiched in between. The font is mirrored, so you can see yourself in that mirrored swirl. You’re standing in the present, but looking at the past; you become part of that fragment.

The House That Will Not Pass for Any Color Than Its Own is on view in Battery Park City in Manhattan from October 2020 through summer 2021.