Essay by Valerie Fletcher

Born of Armenian parents in Istanbul, Turkey, in 1904, 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 there, he left to attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 1925, he moved to New York City. Two years later, while studying under William Zorach, Hague began to sculpt in stone. Zorach advocated carving, rather than 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 resided for the rest of his life. Shifting away from stone, Hague carved almost exclusively in wood available locally. Increasingly he appreciated the natural shapes of trees and retained them in his finished compositions. Respect for the inherent textures, colors, and shapes of wood remained the focus of Hague’s aesthetics for the rest of his life.

Big Indian Mountain, 1964–65

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 Mountain can indeed be compared to paintings by Franz Kline, but their origins lie in the branching of a large walnut tree trunk. By retaining 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. The sheer size of this monolithic wood piece may also comment indirectly on the massive clear-cutting of American forests in the 1960s.

Valerie Fletcher is Senior Curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC. Her research on groundbreaking aspects of international, globalized, and transnational art have resulted in numerous exhibitions and publications.