In her Avenues Along the Key System series, Mildred Howard utilizes the elegance of Chine-collé — a collage technique in which disparate elements are combined via the pressure of a printing press — to pay vibrant homage to the multiplicity of the Bay Area’s geographic and cultural landscape. The eponymous Key System refers to the mass transit system that provided streetcar, bus, and rail transportation to much of the Bay Area between 1903 and 1960, when it was sold to the newly formed AC Transit; Howard recalls that as a child, the Key System was her family’s main means of transportation. The vintage photographs included in the Avenues prints are drawn from the artist’s own extensive collection and include images of both anonymous strangers and Howard’s family members. Without a trace of sentimentality, Howard’s works nonetheless evoke nostalgia and a powerful sense of wonder at the universal currents of life and creativity that shape our particular histories: the delicately layered compositions of the Avenues Along the Key System series speak to the fragmented collage of faces, places, colors and impressions that constitutes memory itself.
Mildred Howard is an artist, activist, teacher, mother and grandmother, born and raised in the Bay Area. Known for her sculptural installations and mixed-media assemblage work, Howard has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Adeline Kent Award from the San Francisco Art Institute, the Joan Mitchell Foundation and a fellowship from the California Arts Council.
In 2011, the city of Berkeley honored Howard by declaring March 29, 2011 to be Mildred Howard Day. As San Francisco Chronicle writer Leah Garchik explains: Howard, a San Francisco-born artist whose work is at the Oakland Museum of California, the de Young, SFMOMA, the San Jose Museum of Art and elsewhere, has founded educational programs, managed an art and communities program at the Exploratorium, and was executive director of the Edible Schoolyard. She’s been involved with nearly every university and art institution in the Bay Area and has also worked in Alameda County Juvenile Hall and in various Bay Area jails.
Howard has lived in Berkeley since 1949 and has lived a uniquely engaged life; as a teenager, she shook hands with John F. Kennedy and had lunch with Fannie Lou Hamer, and recalls seeing Muhammad Ali shadowboxing his way down Adeline one morning in the early 1970s. She was a member of SNCC and CORE, protested segregation in Berkeley schools, and continues to work with youth and emerging artists both in the Bay Area and internationally.