Huff icon

A UCMP special exhibit

The Art of Sculptor William Gordon Huff

Part VI: Personal Art and Miscellaneous works

Abbreviations: Tim Huff and the Huff Family Archives, Laytonville, CA HFA; Antonia Huff Rodrigues, Santa Rosa, CA (all photographed by Dave Strauss) AHR; University of California Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) Archives, Berkeley, CA UA; Ray Strong Family Papers, Upper Lake, CA RSFP; Golden Gate International Exposition GGIE; Alameda Naval Air Station ANAS

Open the Sources page for Parts V and VI in a new window.

Personal art pursuits and other miscellaneous works

Despite the seemingly endless string of art jobs that came Huff's way, he still found time to do art for his own enjoyment. He produced charcoal and pencil drawings, sculptures, abstract and cubist pastels, including a few large pastels (see "Huff and the Vietnam War" on page 5). Many of the pastels were explorations of color and/or form. The abstract sculptures are known only from photographs. Since Huff never dated his work and rarely wrote about these personal pieces, it is difficult to say just when many of them were made.

Additional drawings with prehistoric subject matter
Cro-magnon man Gomphothere and glyptodon

Click on any image to see a larger and complete version. Top: Horses, possibly two species, fleeing Osteoborus, a Miocene dog-like carnivore. Note the ghost of an erased horse in front of the largest tree. Large Format Print Collection, box containing prints 0417-0705, no. 0647, UA. Middle left: Horses flee a brush fire while a small group of mammoths seem unconcerned in the background. HFA. Middle center: Huff's drawing of battling mammoths appeared in a Bay Area newspaper. HFA. Middle right: A charcoal drawing of migrating mammoths. HFA. Bottom left: A fine drawing of a Neanderthal in the UCMP Archives. Bottom center: A Huff portrait of a Cro-magnon man in the UCMP Archives. Bottom right: It is not clear what time period this drawing is meant to represent. The armored glyptodons suggest that it's the Pleistocene but the struggling gomphothere in the background is Miocene. AHR.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top: These two drawings appear to have been done for publication but what publication is unknown. UA. Bottom left: A nice drawing of a desmostylan. HFA. Bottom center: A fine drawing of Dimetrodon in red and black. HFA. Bottom right: Drawing of Paramylodon, an extinct ground sloth. HFA.

Scenes from the early American West, pastoral landscapes and … elephants

Huff had always been interested in history but perhaps it was his association with Charles Camp and E Clampus Vitus that triggered his primary interest in the American West and particularly the history of California. This focus is seen in many of his drawings, as well as in many of the projects he pursued and took on.

Click on any image to see a larger version. All from AHR.

Whimsical drawings

In a 1962 letter to Ray Strong, Huff enclosed a copy of an illustrated manuscript he'd put together that was meant to be a satire on advertising. Asking for Strong's opinion of the work and whether it had any money-making possibilities, Huff wrote:

This is the result of something I did over a period of time going back a number of years as you can see. I used to relax of an evening after I got home from work by indulging in this sort of graphic horseplay. One day I realized I had produced quite a number of these drawings and decided to try to do something with them. A friend photographed them for me and I told myself that maybe I was on the way somewhere to a payoff depot. As far as I ever got after composing 'appropriate' stories was up against the proverbial stone wall. I didn't know what to do with the result of my effort. A feeling of doubt overcame me and the manuscript has been in my bottom dresser drawer for the most part ever since. A few friends have seen it and one said after he had seen it that he laughed for two days. … It is meant to be a satire on modern advertising. Present day advertising for the most part is based on fear. … It is all ludicrous and the time is ripe for laughing at the whole American advertising industry. The industry could even capitalize on laughing at itself if it went about it in the right way. Maybe we can get together and show them the way.1

No subsequent correspondence makes any reference to Huff's advertising manuscript. In the Huff Family Archives are several pages of notes relating to this advertising "project" but nothing like a manuscript. The notes do reveal that some of the whimsical ECV drawings shown at the bottom of page 3—specifically, those of Alcibiades La Rue, Emperor X and CIRCA 15,00 B.C.—stemmed from Huff's "graphic horseplay" with advertising, but it could have been the other way around: the ECV drawings may have been adapted to fit the advertising theme. This is unclear. In any case, the advertising images and ECV have considerable overlap. Other drawings that definitely are related to the advertising theme and some that might be related are shown below.

Click on any image to see a larger version. The top row of illustrations are mentioned in Huff's advertising notes. Top left: Sholobeth, an ancient Hebrew wrestler, was a spokesperson for Vino El Foxo. AHR. Top center: A certificate featuring Pharaoh Menthol-Ika. HFA. Top right: A poet (right) sips fermented goat's milk for inspiration. AHR. Middle left: Greek strongman Potagami Jargas was a good advertisement for dried olives. AHR. Middle center: The myth of Leda and the swan was turned into an ad for mouthwash. AHR. Middle right: A Native American studies a billboard erected along the Oregon Trail. AHR. Bottom left: What, if any, connection this image—"Dawn of Maternal Instinct, 70,000,000 B.C."—has with advertising is unclear. AHR. Bottom center: This "hippo-man" could have advertising connections. AHR. Bottom right: "Playful Carthaginians" probably has an advertising tie-in. AHR.

Click on any image to see a larger version. An advertising connection is hard to imagine for these three drawings. Left: This drawing of a rooster and hen has the enigmatic title "Anomaly." Center: Senator Mutabilis (a Roman?) is aghast at something. Right: This interesting drawing lacks a title. All from AHR.

Anthropomorphic drawings

Huff made a number of illustrations in which the traditional role of animal and man were reversed. These were probably done for Huff's own amusement; they don't appear to have any connection to advertising or ECV.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top left: Horses driving men-drawn wagons pause to exchange pleasantries. Top center: A seal trains men to balance balls on their noses. Top right: A pig farmer enjoys watching his men fight over food in the trough. Middle left: A horse miner leads his pack man across the desert. Middle right: A mother dog takes her leashed human for a walk. Bottom left: Two rams shearing a herd of men. Bottom right: Huff did a large, somewhat cubist, pastel of the drawing at left. He gave it a title (in the lower left corner) that reads "'Life on Planet Q3X' or 'The Gold Planet' (The Hereafter for self-serving politicians)." All from AHR.

Abstract drawings and pastels

A best guess is that the majority of Huff's smaller-scale abstract drawings were done during the 1960s and 70s, with more being produced following Huff's retirement from ANAS in 1968. The abstract drawings were often quite complex, yet balanced in composition. Many featured human and other biological forms; several resembled stylized masks. Masks had been a common theme in Huff's art since his days in New York City.1 The two rows of drawings below are those that have no recognizable biological elements.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top left: This drawing has a title written on the back: "Abstraction B 4." Top center and right: These drawings, like a number of Huff's pastels, were done on sandpaper. Bottom left: Colored pencils were used for this drawing. Bottom center: The title of this drawing, also done on sandpaper, is "Abstraction C 7.". All from AHR.

The three rows of drawings below all contain biological elements.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top right: This drawing was done on black paper and is entitled "Uncle Josh and Aunt Tillie (Floating ghosts)." Middle left: On the back of this charcoal drawing is written "Wm. G. Huff, From Out of the Sea." Middle right: A title written on the back of this drawing reads "Elephant, Etc." Huff used this drawing in a bookplate he designed for Charles Camp. Bottom left: This abstract representation of a bison was done on light gray paper. Bottom center: This large, cubist pastel drawing, protected by plastic, is based on work that dates to Huff's GGIE days. All from AHR.

The following two rows of drawings demonstrate Huff's interest in masks.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top row: From the left are "The Wilful [sic] Wizard," a grim-looking mask, "The Wistful Witch" and a pastel done on sandpaper. Bottom row: From the left are "Tufted Beard," "Mask on Mask Red," another pastel drawing on sandpaper, a female nude wearing a mask and "The Fossil-Hunter." All from AHR.

Miscellaneous works from the Huff Family Archives

The Huff Family Archives contain a miscellany of molds, casts, sculptures, medallions and photographs of other works for which there is little or no written record. They are pictured here for completeness.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Most or all of these sculptures look as if they were small-scale models that Huff hoped to see made into large-scale works. Top left: This monument to "Labor" includes a smaller figure for scale. Top, second from left: This monument to Apache chief Mangus Colorado (or Mangas Coloradas)—read about him on Wikipedia—also has a small figure for scale. Top, third from left: A monument to the Native Sons and Daughters of the Golden West. The Sons and Daughters are actually separate service organizations, one being for men and the other for women. Read about the Sons and Daughters on Wikipedia. Top right: A proposed monument to frontiersman Kit Carson. Bottom left: An unidentified figure with his horse. Bottom center: Mounted scout. Bottom right: Back on page 1 we learned of Huff's interest in creating an equestrian sculpture of explorer John C. Fremont. This is the model he made for the proposed monument. On the photograph of this nice piece Huff wrote "Study for Fremont monument that never got off the ground. Leon Whitsell tried to promote it, but in 1932, the depth of the Great Depression, money was tighter than it had ever been before or since." This statement suggests that Huff met Whitsell, a member of E Clampus Vitus, almost immediately after returning to California from Vermont. If true, then my entire theory of how Huff became involved with Charles Camp and the Clampers is completely wrong. Someone may have tried to promote the Fremont monument but I doubt that it was Whitsell. HFA.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Nothing in the Huff Family Archives refers to these three pieces. Left: A bust of a woman, possibly a pioneer woman. Center: A plaster sculpture of a pioneer family. Right: A pioneer mother with her son and a Native American boy. All photos from the HFA, on indefinite loan to Peña Adobe's Mowers-Goheen Museum.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top row: Horse sculptures. Bottom left: On this photograph of a male bust one can see that the words "BY MARROS" have been scratched into it. This suggests that the bust was actually made by Huff's art school friend, Basil Marros (see page 1), who was primarily a painter. Bottom, second from left: Another sculpture of John C. Fremont. Bottom, third from left: A nice bust of a young boy. Bottom right: This head of a bald man may have been one of Huff's early works done while in New York City.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Here are four of Huff's abstract sculptures and a couple other pieces. Top left: "Grandpa Descending Stairs" or "After the Fall." Top center: "Cup of Joy." Top right: "The Harvest." Bottom left: An unnamed abstract sculpture featuring two Native Americans. Bottom center: A ceramic tile with a relief of a young male writer. Bottom right: Huff's bust of Cro-Magnon Man that he made for the Palo Alto Junior Museum. All three of the bottom items are from the HFA, on indefinite loan to Peña Adobe's Mowers-Goheen Museum.

Click on any image to see a larger version. The top four plaques pictured here appear to have been part of a series showing how the delivery of mail evolved over the years. Top left: Plaque depicting the U.S. mail being delivered by a train powered by a steam locomotive. Top right: A plaque with a more modern train and plane carrying the U.S. mail. Middle left: A Pony Express rider flees an angry Native American in this plaque. Middle right: A modified version of the previous plaque adds another Native American and lowers the rider's gun hand. Bottom left: Plaque of a frontier scouting party. Bottom right: A plaque featuring a resting herd of cattle.

Click on any image to see a larger version. These are a selection of the many medallions Huff created. The Huff Family Archives has duplicates, in some cases several, of many of them. Top left: Round medallion of a boy. The scale bar is one inch. Top center: "Mikie," a larger medallion of possibly the same boy. Scale bar is one inch. Top right: Most of Huff's reliefs of people are profiles but here is a rare example of an unknown male in three-quarter view. Scale bar is one inch. Bottom left: A round medallion with an abstract design. Scale bar is one inch. Bottom center: The same abstract design cast as a tile. Scale bar is two inches. Bottom right: A two-color medallion of the head of a steer. Scale bar is one inch.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Huff experimented with other mold-making materials as we can see from the rubber medallion molds pictured in the top row. Top left: Red rubber molds for the heads of a horse and a cowboy. Top center: A white rubber mold of a piece entitled "'From Out of the Deep' or 'He Stole My Dentures.'" Top right: The subject matter of this white rubber mold is unlike any of Huff's other work. Perhaps he was commissioned to do this piece. Scale bar is one inch. Bottom left: The relief Huff made of Lola Montez was one of his favorites. Lola Montez was a dancer and actress who spent some time in San Francisco and Grass Valley in the 1850s. Read more about her on Wikipedia. Bottom center: Huff made both round and oval molds of Ms. Montez. Bottom right: Huff produced numerous casts of Ms. Montez.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top left: A fine relief of a young Doris Mackintosh Huff. Scale bar is two inches. Top center: The plaster mold for a medallion of Helen Eaton, a Bennington, Vermont, resident. Scale bar is one inch. Top right: Cast tile of an unidentified woman. Scale bar is one inch. Bottom left: Cast tile of an unidentified male, however, I'm thinking that it could be of a young Ruben Stirton. Bottom center: This person—an unidentified male—was another one of Huff's favorites; the sculptor made several casts of him in both plaster and copper. Bottom right: Plaster mold of another unidentified male.

Click on any image to see a larger and complete version. Top left: A selection of small items in the Huff Family Archives. There's a running horse maquette, possibly made for a Project 400 diorama; a horse head relief; a small Franklin Delano Roosevelt; a slightly larger Abraham Lincloln; a cat-like mask cast in red rubber; and a small head of Apache chief Mangus Colorado. Top center: Plaster cast of a bear. Top right: Another unusual subject for Huff is this mermaid. Scale bar is one inch. Bottom left: A plaster cast of pterosaurs, essentially identical to the ceramic one he made for the GGIE in 1940. Bottom, second from left: An unusual standing plaque of two saber-toothed cats eyeing a herd of passing bison. Bottom, third from left: A semicircular bas-relief of a Native American hunting bison, similar to the one he made for the Bryan, Texas, post office. Perhaps it was an earlier version. Bottom right: Mold of a Native American hunter, much like the one in the bas-relief at left.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Left: An oval mask medallion. Second from left: The plaster mold for a larger version of the same mask. Third from left: Plaster cast of another mask. Right: A small, painted mask medallion.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Top left: Huff produced a number of cast images in copper, such as this fine one of Hideyo Noguchi. Top center: Another work in copper of a cowboy roping a steer (sans rope). Top right: This is a unique image in that it appears to be a colored print on plaster made from an etching. Bottom: Huff did play with etching as shown by these two etched plates of farmlands.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Left: A nice portrait of Huff, probably taken in the 1980s. HFA. Center: This portrait of Bill and Doris may date from the 1970s. AHR. Right: Bill with his friend and fellow Clamper, Coke Wood, in Murphys, taken on the same day as the photo at far left. HFA.

Click on any image to see a larger version. Huff would on occasion produce reliefs for the gravesites of family members. Top left: These casts of two Civil War soldiers remained a mystery until online searching revealed that the cast on the right was of William Hix Huff, Jr., Huff's paternal grandfather. Huff Family Archives. Top right: The plaque that Huff made for his grandfather's grave in Bond County, Illinois, in 1984. The identity of the other Civil War soldier is unknown. Middle left: The grandfather's plaque was set in a new monument in front of the original headstone, which apparently had broken in half. The two photos of William's grave marker are from; photos contributed by zumatmk5. Middle center: Huff also did reliefs for a new marker on his great-great-grandfather's grave in Marion County, Illinois, in 1978. Middle right: A closer look at the plaque for Samuel Huff. Samuel's son, "Wm Hix," was Huff's great-grandfather. The two photos of Samuel's grave marker are from; photos by Susan Curtis McGrath. Bottom left: A grave marker Huff made for his daughter-in-law's parents. Bottom center: Huff's relief of his wife was included on her grave marker. Bottom right: Huff's own grave marker bears no image. All three grave markers pictured in this bottom row are at the Laytonville Cemetery, Laytonville, CA; all three photos by David Smith.

Wrapping up

Unfortunately for me, I never had the opportunity to meet William Gordon Huff. He died around the time that I began volunteering at the UC Museum of Paleontology (1993). It wasn't until 2011—by this time I had been an employee at UCMP for 15 years—that I developed an interest (my wife has called it an obsession) in Huff and his work. Over the past few years I have learned a lot about Huff's art projects, but there is still a lot about Huff the artist and Huff the family man that have eluded me, primarily because he never wrote about his feelings for art, his own motivations and intentions; he said little about his wife and family in his correspondence.

And there are a couple of things about Huff that I find both mystifying and frustrating:

  1. Huff always signed his work but with the exception of a few historical plaques and one sculpture made in 1927 he never dated any of it. Most serious artists date their work so why Huff chose not to do so is a mystery. For the majority of his sculptures, plaques and reliefs there are references to the pieces in his correspondence and other documents so one can create a chronology for them. This is not so easy with his drawings. Unless they were prepared for publication or as preliminary sketches for known projects, the majority of Huff's drawings are difficult to date, even to the decade.
  2. Except for illustrations done for publication (again, undated), Huff rarely used high-quality paper for his drawings. Perhaps he considered himself a sculptor first and drawings were more of a fun diversion. In any case, his use of low-quality paper jeopardizes the long-term survival of this subset of his oeuvre. Fortunately, there are photographs and/or scans of most of his surviving drawings.

What I did learn about Huff was that he was a very affable and self-confident fellow; he liked people and people liked him. When he was excited about a project, his excitement was infectious. Huff was fairly successful at convincing others in the importance of a project, especially early on when sculpture was his chosen career; his success rate was not as good once he began working at the Alameda Naval Air Station and art had become more of a sideline. In my dealings with Huff's descendants, it is clear that he was a beloved father and grandfather. He was not a religious man and was not into sports. He had no vices; he did not care much for alcohol (despite his membership in E Clampus Vitus) and didn't smoke.

Huff was a history buff but he became, through his association with Charles Camp and UCMP, a big fan of prehistory as well. He found stories about past life as interpreted by Camp and other paleontologists to be utterly fascinating. Both Huff and his frequent collaborator Ray Strong had a desire to use their talents to educate and this can be seen in every project that they worked on together.

Although very confident in his abilities as a sculptor, Huff remained a humble man. But he took comfort in knowing that his artwork would outlive him. In a letter he wrote to Ray Strong at the age of 79, Huff mused "it is gratifying to know our lives, yours and mine, were spent producing work that will endure long after we are gone—not that we will know the difference but it is a soothing thought."1 Huff also had few regrets about his life. In another letter to Strong, he said "while I was lying there [in bed] I reviewed my life from the beginning to the present—and came to the conclusion if I had it to live over again there is not much I would change."2

Huff died on December 13, 1993, at the age of 90. His wife Doris predeceased him by seven years and his youngest son Colin died in 2017. William Gordon Huff is survived by his daughter Antonia, his son Tim, and a number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren.

About the author
David K. Smith was employed with the University of California Museum of Paleontology for 19 years, retiring in 2015. He did illustration (e.g., tee shirt designs), page layout (e.g., UCMP News and PaleoBios), web page design and formatting (UCMP, Explorations Through Time, Paleoportal, Understanding Evolution, Understanding Science) and a wide assortment of tasks involving printed matter for the museum's Education and Public Outreach unit. As a retiree, David continues to volunteer at UCMP, working in the museum archives and on special projects like this one.
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