Charles Umlauf’s Studio in the Museum

 Exhibition view. Photo taken by the author.

Exhibition view. Photo taken by the author.

In 1985 the city of Austin received the gift of sculptor Charles Umlauf’s residence, studio and 168 sculptures from the artist after his retirement from the faculty at the University of Texas in Austin in 1981. A land-swap agreement with the state provided six acres adjacent to the original property that became home to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in 1991, a project which Umlauf helped design and install. Although the museum is presently located in an important area of Austin, the quiet isolation of the wooded area, purchased in the 1940’s remains an integral element to the grounds located next to Ziker Park and Barton Springs.

Future plans for the museum include opening the residence and studio to visitors but will take years for the project to be completed. No doubt the project will significantly enhance the museum, there remains an incredible wealth of Umlauf’s art and archives as well as contemporary sculpture from the Austin area and those influenced by Umlauf. Curator Dr. Katie Robinson Edwards has taken note of the fact that Umlauf’s work, steeped in 2,000 years of traditional processes, has obvious significance as a foundation of contemporary sculpture tracing its trajectory through the museum with curated exhibitions and hosting the annual Umlauf Prize exhibition by emerging artists.


Exhibition view. Photo taken by the author.

To celebrate the museum’s 25th anniversary this year, Edwards began planning the current exhibition Studio in the Museum: An Interactive Recreation of Charles Umlauf’s Studio soon after her arrival three years ago this September. Through collaborations with set and stage designers including Austin-based Stephanie Busing, Studio in the Museum morphed from an idea of a literal recreation of the studio to the interactive exhibit it is. Included is a timeline filled with images and information dating back to Umlauf’s studies at the Chicago Art Institute and growth in Chicago, commissions through the WPA and his annual summer trips to work at foundries in Italy. For Edwards, the one of the most important aspect of the exhibit is to re-introduce Umlauf to people who thought they knew him and introduce him to the many who have yet to discover him. The biographical details continue to impress Edwards as she looks deeper into the artist’s life and work.

 Exhibition view. Photo taken by the author.

Exhibition view. Photo taken by the author.

The gallery includes stations that illuminate Umlauf’s processes from preliminary sketches on a drawing desk and materials to molds and finished objects. The ability for people to physically touch his sculptures was an important part of Umlauf’s dedication of the 168 sculptures. Following this idea, the exhibition features an area that allows visitors to work with modeling clay that is the first stage for creating bronze sculptures. The main section of the gallery includes a major portion of Umlauf’s original studio space with tools, models, molds and works in progress that display a range in ideas and media. To complete the education of visitors, an illustrated video and information explains the lost-wax mold making process and casting of bronze for easy understanding. As though back in class with Umlauf, Studio in the Museum brings together the classroom and lecture with the biographical and personal insight of the artist in an exciting way.


View of the sculpture garden. Photo taken by the author.

Studio in the Museum will be on display for twice as long most exhibits, from April 22 until October 16, 2016. Also as part of the celebration and the Umlauf Prize, awarded each year to an MFA student at UT-Austin by an independent juror, the museum will include six additional Umlauf Prize recipients from previous years for an Umlauf Prize alumni show beginning in November. Opening February 27, 2017 will be an exhibition of Umlauf’s sculptures of former student Farah Fawcett, on loan from the Blanton Museum.

By Jake Weigel

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