Gone too soon

Dear stranger,
I knew not much of you
except that your eyes glowed
at the prospect of new horizons
that your curiosity piqued
and your spirit lightened up
when your fingers were at play
on the vastness of a canvas
I knew not much of you
except that you dreamt big
that you craved experiences
which will change your art forever
that you remained in patience
and eagerness-pulsing heart
for the one big opportunity
of great exposure of your talent
I saw expectation in your eyes
for all the world’s appreciation
and the applause you deserve

Dear stranger,
I knew not much of you
yes I’d planed to change that
but alas, you moved on in a flash
I know now—death is dismissive

In remembrance of a colleague who went too soon.


Why Austin

A while ago, I was lucky enough to stay in Austin for a couple of weeks while visiting the US on a work trip. My first instinct of the city, which kept growing with each dawn, is that it’s weird.

Austin is a weird city.

Now you could interpret that in many ways, and you should too because every street corner had something amusing that made me go “huh?”

I don’t mean that as a negative trait, though. It’s just that Austin is so… weird. And I was only there for two weeks!

The thing I found most peculiar and exciting about Austin is that it’s an amalgamation of some of the things other cities are known for. It’s as artsy as San Francisco, dry and hot as the Australian outback (well, I’ve seen pictures), folksy like Portland, industrial as Chicago (ok, not too much—no city can be as Chicago), well-made like Pleasanton, and difficult for pedestrians—just like Downtown Miami.

I don’t say that to brag that I’ve been to so many places, but my point is that Austin has so much more than what I expected to experience there. To cap it all, Austin has some of the greenest localities I’ve ever seen—and it sure as hell not what I expected to see from the stereotypical, cowboy state of Texas.

Let’s start with the art, shall we? There’re a few murals all around Austin that’s so iconic that they’ll show up on your map. I was following the route to the supermarket when I noticed my map pointing out a mural called Greetings from Austin. There’s more too—Keep Austin Weird, Hi, How Are You, You’re my Butter Half, I Love You so Much, Welcome to South Austin and so many more that jump at you from the most unexpected street corners. As if that weren’t enough, the local supermarket, HEB, has their wall smeared with Austin-ness. Complementing that are the murals inside Trader Joe’s which span off of the famous street murals.

Adding to fascinating artwork were creative signboards outside the many shops. It seemed to me like every business owner had taken considerable effort and interest in designing the exterior of their stores or restaurants.

Making matters more attractive is an entire street, its footpath illustrated with quirky messages and social awareness campaigns. I was more than stunned when I saw in the middle of a botanical garden, a large spade with the lettering, Scoop the Poop Austin.

Scoop the poop

All that, though strange and unexpected, was rather enjoyable. After all, you could say it’s Austin’s way of attracting tourists—they have great food trucks, the Texas State Capitol building where you can walk into state representatives’ offices without knocking, nature reserves that have streams running through them, a bat colony that people flock to watch, point, and gawk, and the infamous 6th Street which overflows with liveliness, bar with loud live music, shops and museums, and so many inviting folks.

Texas State Capitol

Aside from all of that, there’s one thing in Austin you’ll never find elsewhere—moonlight towers. Back in the 1880s and 1890s, moonlight towers were famous guardians of the night in many cities across the United States and Europe. One hundred sixty-five feet tall and illuminating a radius of 1500 feet, these light towers were all dismantled over time—except the thirteen towers still standing in Austin—the last ones in the world.

Moonlight tower in Austin, Texas
Moonlight tower

When people ask what’s great about Austin, you can’t say name one thing. It’s the little things with deep meaning and value that make the city such a great place to visit. If you’re ever anywhere near Austin, it’s well worth a trip.

Survival of the fittest

Two-by-two, the students of Jasper High lined one after the other, following their creative arts teacher Ms. Richards who, in turn, followed the museum guide. It wasn’t the first time that eight graders took a field trip to the Museum of Ancient and Modern Art. It was part of the annual curriculum, and there was always something new each time.

This year, it was a pining mother lamenting her stillborn child. Visitors queued all along the hallway, awaiting their turn to see the well-guarded portrait. World renowned artist, Huge, had replicated humankind’s most primitive emotion—love—in its unadulterated form. The enthralling special exhibit was on loan the art museum in New York. To all this information, Ms. Richards nodded with polite curiosity.

“Love like I’ve never seen before,” read the placard. Students oohed and aahed when it was their turn to ogle at the art. Ms. Richards couldn’t help agree with the artist—she had never seen love so pure.

“I apologise for the delay,” the guide was saying. “We had to increase security ever since someone tried to steal the portrait two weeks ago.”

Back at the police station, the policeman’s eye gleamed with joy. He’d apprehended the culprit—a twenty-two year old unemployed art graduate.

He admitted to the crime, “I don’t care about love. I’m trying to survive.”

The Pennsy - Penn Station, NYC


Scribblings on walls

sign of childhood innocence

mark of defiance

Photo: The Pennsy NYC is a high-end food hall above Penn Station. It features five chef-driven concepts and a bar with indoor and outdoor dining spaces. Also home of the great vegan bakery, The Cinnamon Snail.

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.