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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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.