Texas Society of Sculptors


With over one hundred members working in a variety of mediums and styles, the Texas Society of Sculptors is a non-profit organization chartered in 1971 in order to educate the public about sculpture, promote the work of sculptors, and serve as a liaison between sculptors nationally. While it is a Texas-based organization, membership is open to sculptors and sculpture enthusiasts nationally. In this months post, several board members of the Texas Society of Sculptors were kind enough to share their thoughts and experiences about their time with TSOS and in Austin. 

Texas Sculpture

And He Was Sad, sculpture by Bob Coffee

How did Texas Society of Sculptors begin and how has it shifted over time? What place to you feel it holds in the Austin community at present?

Mary Morse: Sculpture became a part of the cultural fabric of Austin in the 1870s when the sculptor Elisabeth Ney built her studio on the outskirts of the city. By the early 1970s, Dan Hawkins, a student of Charles Umlauf’s at UT Austin, Mel Fowler,  Mary Paige Huey, graduate of UT and a stone sculptor, “…were discussing Sculpture in general and some of the problems associated with mutual exchange of information as well as the need for education of the public in regard to sculpture, as well as a requirement for establishing a code of ethics for sculpture.  This was when the idea for a sculptor’s society was germinated.” This quotation from The History of the Texas Society of Sculptors. By 1972 the Texas Society of Sculptors was chartered with State of Texas and established as a non-profit organization.

Maria Ripperda: Over time TSOS has shifted from Professional Juried Member status to General Membership by subscription. It works to inform members of show opportunities, calls for art and commissions. Our most recent efforts have focused on outreach and education. Our most significant contribution to the community is SculptFest, a daylong celebration of sculpture held annually since 1991. The event is held at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum as part of Austin Museum Day with free admission, demonstrations and talks by participating members of TSOS. In the past years we have seen from 800 to 2,500 in public attendance.

Texas Sculpture

Forget Me Knots, sculpture installation by Maria Spearman.
Photo by Kirk Tuck

What are the goals for TSOS? How would you like to see TSOS evolve?

MR: We are creating opportunities for our artist members to show and create art, educate the public, and reach under-served in our communities. The board is also currently working on a mentorship proposal.

Bob Coffee: I’d like to see TSOS have more shows- and not just in Austin but all around central and south Texas. After all, we are the Texas Society of Sculptors.

Many of your members are working in metals, concrete, and other materials that survive well in the elements. Are the majority of your members working in the sphere of public art? Are there strong thematic and conceptual ties in the work of your members?

MM: The original TSOS members were actively engaged in producing and presenting to the public works in the most contemporary styles. They sought out and exhibited as a group and as individuals in any venue throughout the state that accepted sculpture. They created their own venues – their first group show in 1972 at Joske’s Gallery in Highland Mall, a show in 1973 for the Ney Museum that marked 100 years since Elisabeth Ney arrived in Texas, and exhibits at Laguna Gloria and Beaumont Art Museums.

MR: The majority of our members are not in the public art realm. But the ones who are have worked diligently within their communities and we have seen an expansion in the field of yearlong displays in cities, such as Georgetown, Jewett, Palestine, Round Rock, Bee Caves, Salado, and Cedar Park.

BC: Very few are. Our members do everything from “soup to nuts” – and do it very well!

Texas Sculpture

Variation on the Pick #1, ceramic sculpture by Christina Coleman

How long have you been a part of the arts in Austin? Over the past several years, what changes have you noticed and what developments do you see continuing?

Nancy Cardozier: In the 1970s, when TSOS was formed, and also during the 1980s, when I came, the whole big push was to gain recognition, or really just any viewership at all. We pleaded for some place (usually the library, or a bank, or some reluctant shop owner’s back room) to present our shows, which were then attended by the exhibitors ourselves. I don’t remember how we did publicity, but there was precious little public notice – and a review was unheard of. My, how that has changed!

In one short sentence, how would you describe the art scene in Austin?

MR: The saying, “Keep Austin Weird” certainly applies, as the art scene in Austin is “all over the map” in terms of originality, mediums and styles!

BC: Very vibrant – but we are a very small part of it.

To learn more about the Texas Society of Sculptors please visit tsos.org

By Gracelee Lawrence

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