Charles Umlauf was an amazing artist born in 1911 in Michigan. He studied art at the Art Institute and the Chicago School of Sculpture and after meeting his wife (who also attended the school) they moved to Austin, Texas where Umlauf had agreed to join the art program at the University of Texas. He worked there until he retired in 1981. In 1985 Umlauf and his wife gave their home, studio and sculptures (numbering 168) to the City of Austin. The city built on land they owned on adjacently and created the gardens that are now open to the public.
Charles Umlauf continued his work until his death in 1994. 2011 would have marked Umlauf’s 100th birthday.*
I got the chance to experience Umlauf’s works and I admit that I had not heard of this talented artist until the question of what to do in Austin for cheap came up over Chelle’s birthday weekend. I pulled out my Android phone and started searching. It is ever up to the task of answering my questions and use it to the fullest, I do. I found the listing on a site boasting the “top 47 place you need to visit in Austin” and after looking it over we decided to give it a try. I can honestly say we were all pleased with the result.
Umlauf’s work is steeped heavily in emotion. He depicts a wide range of symbolic icons, from Mary holding Jesus, to Icarus, to scenes of angels slaying demons. Some of his work is beautiful and innocent, others erotic and sensual. His ability to capture such intense expressions on the faces of his sculptures is truly something to behold.
Though the garden was small, each piece appeared to be carefully placed, almost as though it sat in harmony with its surrounding bits of nature. There were sculptures of lovers embracing passionately nestled in a watery Eden for onlookers to find. It almost made you want to blush. In stark juxtaposition you could see the tender love between Mary and Jesus. His work was raw and beautiful.
There was real anguish carved into the faces of many of his sculptures, as though Umlauf had trapped that emotion forever in his work. I admit that it was chilling gazing into the eyes of some of the sculptures. I stood waiting for a scream to escape their mouths, but they remained forever silent.
I loved the way the City of Austin cultivated a garden around his work. I felt like I was getting two gifts for the price of one; a chance to admire the works of a talented artist and the beauty of nature. Sometimes stepping out of the museum allows us better freedom to connect with the artist and his work. The Umlauf Sculpture Garden states in their guidebook that they promote the touching of the pieces; promote accessibility. They have taken such care with preserving the sculptures so that the visually impaired can reach out and touch them. That alone wins them my respect.
I love the majesty of the piece of the left and how much it contrasts with Umlauf’s depiction of Icarus. The dichotomy of these two messages is clear. There is a regal grace to the human form, a kingly potential in our nature but we are not without our follies. Even the best of us fall.
I think that this was my favorite piece of the whole collection; St. Michael and Lucifer, locked in mortal battle. The fierce look on Lucifer’s face, the determination on St. Michael’s; life and courage, fear and wrath, all bundled up in within faces made of bronze.
I got more pictures on film but I’m going to save them for my film post on Monday. In the meantime add this location to your bucket list, you will not be disappointed. Do you enjoy art? Who is your favorite artist? What do you love about them?
*information taken from guidebook provided by the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum