Raoul Hague, Big Indian Mountain

Raoul Hague, Big Indian Mountain, 1965-1966. Black walnut, 64× 45 × 49 inches. Lent by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Louis V. Bell Fund, 1974 (1974.6). Photo by Ben Aqua.

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audio transcript

Valerie Fletcher: Raoul Hague was one of a generation of sculptors who believed that it was important to work in a tradition of craftsmanship – that is to carve directly in natural materials like wood and stone using simple traditional tools. The idea behind this was that as life became more and more mechanized, art needed to be a refuge from that insistent mechanization.

In the 1940s, Hague moved to Woodstock, New York, which then, as now, is a kind of artists’ colony. He began to find his sources for wood in the region around Woodstock including some wonderfully big trees. Whenever a tree came down in a lightning storm or it was taken down for construction purposes, he would try and get a massive section of the trunk. The sculpture we have here, Big Indian Mountain from the mid 1960s, came from a massive walnut tree. And rather than transform that chunk of tree into something that doesn’t resemble a tree at all, such as a figure or perhaps a purely abstract composition of intricate forms, Hague instead preferred to preserve the original shape of the wood segment. And so you have here what was the trunk branching out into three major branches.

As he worked in sculptures like this, he became more and more aware, not only of the intrinsic beauty of the wood, of its grain, but how forms like this serve as a kind of metaphor reminding us that we are all growing, organic creatures; that the wood, while beautiful in and of itself, is also a reminder of our intrinsic roots in nature.

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Raoul Hague, Big Indian Mountain, 1965-1966.

American, born in Turkey 1904-1993

Born to Armenian parents in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1904, Raoul Hague came to the United States to further his education, enrolling in Iowa State College in 1921. At that time he changed his name from Heukelekian to Hague. After a year in Iowa, he left to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1925 Hague moved to New York City and two years later, while studying under William Zorach (1887–1966), he began to sculpt in stone. One of the first artists to employ direct carving, Zorach preferred that method to modeling in plaster or clay for casting into bronze. In an era of increasing mechanization, carving with traditional hand tools reasserted the importance of natural materials and handicraft. In the 1940s, Hague settled in Woodstock, north of New York City, where he lived out the rest of his life. Shifting away from stone, he carved almost exclusively in local wood, retaining the natural shape of the tree in his finished compositions. Hague’s respect for the inherent textures, colors, and shapes of wood remained the focus of his aesthetics for the rest of his life.

During the 1960s, Hague’s sculptures became larger and more abstract. The massive flowing forms were considered by some admirers and critics to be a three-dimensional counterpart of the broad, sweeping brushstrokes characteristic of abstract expressionist paintings. The four tilting verticals in Big Indian Mountaincan indeed be compared to paintings by Franz Kline (1910–1962)—a central figure of the abstract expressionist movement in New York—but their origins lie in the branching of a large walnut tree trunk. By preserving the visual evidence of the wood’s source, Hague alluded to the power of growth in nature. The beauty of the sculpture arises in part from the sensuous organic patterns and color nuances of the natural wood. Hague's inherent respect for the physical contours of the found trunk may also comment indirectly on the massive clear-cutting of American forests in the 1960s. 

Raoul Hague, Big Indian Mountain, 1965-1966. Photo by Ben Aqua.
Raoul Hague, Big Indian Mountain, 1965-1966. Photo by Ben Aqua.

Location: ATT West Entrance

GPS: 30.281912,-97.740845