June 28, 2021

Artist Profile: Charles Umlauf (1911-1994)

Libby West
Mother & Child (Refugees) by Charles Umlauf
Mother & Child (Refugees), 1950, bronze
(Image courtesy of The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum)

It is clear from his emotional depictions of Refugees to the lively models of his children, that Charles Umlauf drew inspiration from current and life event. What sets Umlauf apart is the exaggerated elements that set the tone for his pieces. Umlauf enlarged the sized of the hands in his figures to symbolize maternity, and elongated extremities to evoke movement all which is manneristic by design.

Diver, 1956, bronze
(Image courtesy of The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum)

Charles Umlauf was a German American born in Michigan who studied at The Art Institute of Chicago from an early age. His professional career began when he received his first commissioned sculpture, in 1922, at the age of 11. He was mentored by Albin Polasek and Lorado Taft, both technical sculptors who help to establish skill and helped the young artist discover his independent style. His subsequent assistantship with Viola Norman at the Chicago School of Sculpture led to his showing at the 1933 Chicago World’s fair. During the Great Depression Charles worked to develop many public works for the WPA Federal Art Project, several of which continue to be exhibited in the public spaces they were created for.

Crucifiction by Charles Umlauf
Crucifixion, 1946, aluminum
(Image courtesy of The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum)

Throughout his career Umlauf received many commissions by churches and private collectors alike. A notable commission was one by Marion McNay, a prominent patron of the arts from San Antonio, who’s crucifix was more than she ever expected. Katie Robinson Edwards, Executive Director and Curator of the UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum has an interesting story behind that commission.

Click here to hear about the commission of Crucifix

Umlauf’s career continued to develop as he took the position as the Instructor of Sculpture at University of Texas in Austin. There he was successful professor and mentor of forty years with a vast number of students, one of whom happened to be Farrah Faucet who, on occasion, sat as his muse. His reputation as a tough but caring professor proceeded him and tales of his extinguishing kiln-fires can still be heard around campus.

Lotus by Charles Umlauf
Lotus, 1960, bronze
(Image courtesy of The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum)

Charles and his wife Angie raised their children at their home and his studio in Austin Texas which has since been gifted to the city of Austin and is now an incredible sculpture garden filled with 59 of Umlauf’s gifted sculptures from his private collection.  The gardens continually have exhibitions and events that make for the perfect way to experience the works of Charles Umlauf, the next time you find yourself in the Heart of Texas be sure to add this to your itinerary.

The Kiss, 1970, bronze
(Image courtesy of The UMLAUF Sculpture Garden + Museum)

“Under the Sycamore” by Angie Umlauf
My Love for You:
You can never know how
Much I love you,
And I can never tell you
No matter how I try.
So just believe me—
It’s more than the
Farthest reach of the ocean’s
Rolling waves,
Endless as the blue of sky.