Texas’s Newest Master Sculptor Is a Parrot Named Hannah

Houston sculptor Joseph Havel discovered he was living with a genius. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, my parrot can make Giacomettis.’ ”

by Molly Glentzer for TexasMonthly

Hannah, sculptor Joseph Havel’s African gray parrot. 

The busiest artist in Texas has little to say when we meet, but she lets out a brief whistle.

She quivers slightly as she sizes me up, gazing at me through intelligent eyes the color of fresh-churned butter. She is wary around strangers because in some respects, she might as well be a chicken; pretty much anybody she encounters might want to eat her.

This spring, a lot of folks will want to meet Hannah, sculptor Joseph Havel’s African gray parrot. She’s not likely to appear in public, but her work will. Hannah is Havel’s star collaborator for an exhibition at the nonprofit art space Dallas Contemporary, where “Parrot Architecture” will be on view April 16–August 21, plus smaller shows at Dallas’s Talley Dunn Gallery (“Flight Paths and Floor Plans,” May 7–June 18) and New Orleans’s Arthur Roger Gallery (“Birdsongs,” May 7–July 16). The shows stacked up because they were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This would be a pretty big deal for any bird. Havel’s works are in the collections of major museums around the world. A few days before handlers arrive to haul away the art, the huge downstairs studio of his compound in northeast Houston looks like a museum itself. Several years’ worth of new work fills much of the space, including precariously totemic, ten-foot-tall sculptures the artist thinks of as “clumsy humans” and similar but smaller pieces on pedestals. Frank Gehry, who is famous for designing wobbly-looking buildings, might envy the architecture of these works built from stacks of cardboard boxes Hannah has pecked to pieces. Also on display are single boxes that are “pure Hannah,” cast in bronze and hung on walls, and a series of monumental collages that are more “almost pure Havel,” incorporating pecked boxes Havel has flattened and affixed to wood canvases.