The works of Umlauf

The Zilker Park was only one of the many attractions of Austin. Not too far from there is another garden, a more sculpted yet wild one: the Umlauf Sculpture garden and museum.

Featuring 62 figurines, most of which Charles Umlauf himself sculpted, the garden stands as a testament to the combined beauties of nature and human intricacies. Charles Umlauf was born to French-German immigrant parents in Michigan. He grew up in Chicago and attended the Art Institute there.

When I walked inside, I knew nothing about a sculpture garden. I had no idea that the garden is home to some of the most magnificent sculptures I’d seen. I didn’t know then that I’d spend hours walking round and round taking photos of every sculpture on display, trying to capture its entire glory in multiple angles.

The first thing the caught my attention was a sculpture titled, Refugees. The garden guide I held explained that Umlauf had made it in 1945 as a reminder of the aftermath of the Second World War. As I observed the intricate carvings of the refugee’s drooping eyes and waning rib cage, I felt an immense sense of doom engulfing me. In such a realistic manner, the artist had recreated mite moments of a dying life. It was a stunner. And so were the rest of the exhibits.

Refugees - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Refugees: Charles Umlauf made many sculptures in the refugee theme. Growing up in Chicago and Michigan, his own family faced a lot of anti-German prejudice. It even led to Americanising their German names. Charles was renamed Karl.

lazarus - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Lazarus: Bronze sculpture, made in 1950. The work os based on a parable about dying. It depicts a sore beggar who “longs to eat what fell from the rich man’s plate.” (Luke 16:21)

Crucifixion - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Crucifixion: 1946, aluminium. This sculpture was a gift from the McNay Art Museum. It’s a scale model of the 10-inch sculpture of the same name made by Marion Koogler McNay for the Shine of St. Antony de Padua Cemetery in San Antonio.

Poetess - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Poetess: 1956, cast stone. The sculpture pays homage to Charles’ wife, Angeline Allen Umlauf, who was an art student in Chicago before becoming a poetess. Representing poetic inspiration, the sculpture also refers to Angeline who played a part in creating the Sculpture Garden.

Family - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Family: 1960, bronze. This is a scale model of the Family sculpture that in the University of Texas campus. The model is 1/3 of the size of the 15-inch version in UT.

Diver - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Diver: 1956, bronze. Modelled by Umlauf’s son, this statue is s reminder of the Umlauf children’s childhood. When young, they’d run down the hill from their home, cutting through the “weeds” to swim at Barton Springs. The diver seems to be cutting through the same “weeds” that were transformed into the garden.

Muse - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Muse 2 – Head: 1963, bronze. Charles made 3 bronze muse statues for the University of Texas. However, he set aside this head of the second muse statue as a separate work.

Spirit of Flight  - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas
Spirit of Flight

Spirit of Flight: 1959, bronze. In the 1959 edition of the Dallas Love Field Monument Sculpture Competition, the winner and the runner up were Umlauf’s sculptures. All entires were anonymous. This one is a scale model for the airport’s fountain installation, which stands 17’ on a 22’ plinth, surrounded by 18 oversized birds.

Hope of Humanity - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas
Hope of Humanity

Hope of Humanity: 1971, bronze. This is a scale model of the 12.6’ sculpture commissioned by the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Charles Umlauf, while sculpting this, took photographs to document the whole process for a book titled, The Sculpture and Drawing of Charles Umlauf. 

Skater - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Skater: 1970, bronze. Charles Umlauf’s homage to Peggy Fleming, an American skater in the 1968 Winter Olympics in France. Only 19 years old then, the skater ha down the gold medal for the United States in that tournament.

Icarus - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Icarus: 1965, bronze. According to Greek mythology, Icarus and his father Daedalus, were trapped  on a labyrinth in the island of Crete. In an attempt to escape, Daedalus made wings for the boy of them using features and wax. Despite his father’s warnings of not to fly too close to the sun, Icarus did and fell into the sea as his wings melted. The myth symbolises the excessive pride of youth and the failed ambitions of humankind.

Eagle - a sculpture at the Umlauf sculpture garden and museum, Austin, Texas

Eagle: 1968, bronze. Commissioned for the Austin headquarters of the First Federal Savings & Loan, this statue stood there for 50 years, before the state loaned it to the garden.

If you ever have a chance to visit the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in Austin, Texas, please do. It’s so worth your time. 



2nd Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas
2nd Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas

Stretching despite curves 

extending reins, influence 

as maker, bridges

High rise building in downtown Miami, Florida


Up above so high

lifeless concrete guarding lives

for the people, by

— — —

Photo: Building in downtown Miami.
World Trade Center - New York City


Wowing, spine tingling

forth painstaking scrutiny

comes spine of buildings

— — —

Photo: The ceiling of the World Trade Center, New York City

Tower of freedom

Say Miami and people reply with, “Beach, please.”

Yes, from what I saw in my brief time in Miami, the city is all about its many beaches, suntans, margaritas, and coastal souvenirs.

But what if you don’t like all of the above?

That was me in Miami. A vegan in the seafood city. A park walker among shopaholics. The best thing about it, though, about being an outcast, is that you find places no one else talks about.

Like The Freedom Tower, for instance.

An art museum and the headquarters of a few departments of the Miami Dade College, the Freedom Tower was once the epicentre of Miami’s people.

When I first set eyes on the building, I knew nothing about it. My map informed me it was a museum, and curious to learn the city’s culture - and more so to avoid standing under the sun - I entered the intricate architectural marvel. I’d noticed from afar that it was a proper tower. Although smaller in diameter than the buildings I’d seen in New York City and Chicago, it’s just as tall.

Paying a rather hefty entrance fee of $12, I went it with a confused mind. Perhaps I over paid, I wondered. I worry about entrance fees where ever I go, not because of the price but because I hate leaving thinking I’d wasted it. The thought lingered as I accepted the brochures from staff, listening as they explained what I should expect to see before letting me explore.

Constructed in 1925, The Freedom Tower was the headquarters of The Miami News, which the publication vacated in 1957 as refugees from Cuba flocked the city and the government needed a place to process them.

As I stood there watching vintage photographs of the people who’d fled Fidel Castro’s regime to come to Miami instead, I felt an intense coldness replace the heat in my body. Children torn away from their parents, families shattered, lives disrupted, these people had come to the only place that’d take them. And there I was, half a century later, on the same spot that the early residents of Miami had bled and wept.

It was a powerful moment of realisation. Although the government sold the building to private buyers afterwards, it still stands as a haunting reminder of the city’s history. It’s no wonder that Spanish is such an integral part of Miami - airports, stores, street signs all had a Spanish version of their English text and messages.

Concluding that I hadn’t wasted my money at all, I moved on to other exhibits. Sure, I could’ve learnt the history and, perhaps, even seen the photos online. However, there’s a strange comfort about being in the presence of history.

The New World Mural 1513

The New World Mural - The Freedom Tower, Miami

The New World Mural – The Freedom Tower, Miami

The building’s design included the original but painters had to recreate it in 1988 to protect it from ruin.

Kislak Center

This one showcased hundreds of artefacts and tools used by early settlers of Miami, including cultural representations from ancient civilisations, as well as paintings and statues of olden traditions like games, meditation behaviours, and social gatherings. Original copies of history books and writing samples, and even copies of Robinson Crusoe and Treasure Island.

By the People

By the People - An exhibition at The Freedom Tower, Miami

By the People – An exhibition at The Freedom Tower, Miami

This is an entire floor dedicated to social and technological advancements in the US. It was perhaps the most interesting and surprising part of my visit to The Freedom Tower. It showcases social developmental proposals from individuals and organisations. Some of them were just plans but some were in production.

Examples include, an urban housing plan for California, an upgraded city plan for Detroit, eco-friendly gear and cycles for farmers, waste management systems, abortion awareness campaigns, hydrology development plans for LA, and even a proposal to revamp windows in prisons to improve inmates’ morality.

These stunning proposals made me wonder how much the world is changing and how less we’re aware of it. New home designs, architecture plans, systems for police personnel protection, smart vehicles, all of which were a glimpse of our potential and the possible future. Humans are incredible, and the mind’s capabilities transcend the impossible.

If only we put that to good use, we’ll leave the world a far better place than we found it. Perhaps humanity isn’t lost after all. If only -