The city of Austin in Texas is a great city to visit in of itself, but it also features a ton of fascinating exhibitions that really complete the city and the whole vibe of the place. If you’re planning on touring the state of Texas any time soon, or have found yourself in Austin due to whatever current circumstances and have some time to kill, you should definitely consider paying the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum a visit.
Located in the Zilker neighborhood of the city, the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum is an outdoors garden that exhibits the many artistic works of the late American sculptor Charles Umlauf. The garden is a pleasant place to take a relaxing stroll through on a lazy day while admiring the masterpieces on display. The garden is also maintained mostly on donations and contributions in addition to volunteer work, and displays that passion through its beautifully well-kept layout.
A Little About Charles Umlauf
Charles Umlauf was born on the 17th of July in the year 1911 in South Haven, Michigan to immigrant parents Christian Heinrich and Charlotte Derouet. Charles Umlauf’s family was often the victim of hate crimes and general bad will from the community around them due to prevalent anti-German sentiment at the time. The family had to relocate multiple times to find work and escape harassment, and were no strangers to their house being vandalized by hooligans.
Charles Umlauf’s father was also once falsely accused of being a spy, and all these hardships took a toll on Charles that were later visible in his work when he became a professional sculptor. What little money Charles Umlauf’s parents had was spent on artistic lessons for their children, and Charles had decided at the age of ten that he would one day become a sculptor. The family also changed almost all of their names to Americanized versions in an attempt to lessen the persecution they regularly faced. Charles’s original name was Karl, and the Umlauf name was originally Heinrich.
Charles was quite gifted at sculpting from a young age, and got his first commission at the young age of eleven. The commission was for a life-sized lion based on a tinier version Charles had made out of clay. Charles’s father died quite early; in the year of 1922, and his mother followed only six years later. As Charles Umlauf matured and perfected his craft, he became increasingly intrigued by the abstract art of some of Europe’s finest artists and sculptors, and as such began to channel that abstract nature in his works as well. Today, Charles Umlauf’s works are found all over the United States; from churches to public areas and from museums to private art collections. Charles’s works won many awards, and he passed on his knowledge during his 40 years as a teacher at the University of Texas School of Art in Austin.
What is the Umlauf Sculpture Garden Like?
Found adjacent to Austin’s Zilker Park, Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum used to be a forgotten bit of land in Austin. Shrouded by trees and vines and covered in overgrown grass, shrubbery, and small ponds here and there, the area also saw illegal dumping and wasn’t really touched upon by the city until the year 1991. This decision came about because of Charles Umlauf and his wife Angeline Umlauf donating their house, studio, and a staggering 168 sculptures to the city in the year of 1985.
Six years later the city decided to display the donated works of art in a dedicated pubic museum, and the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum was born. Architect Aan Coleman got the job of designing the garden, and another famed architect by the name of Lawrence Speck designed the gallery and terrace for the garden and museum. The garden nowadays isn’t simply home to the intricately detailed works of Charles Umlauf, but also to the Roberta Crenshaw learning center. It also has seasonal exhibitions where up and coming artists have their works displayed, though the gallery tends to prefer exhibiting the works of Texan and other Southern artists.
The gallery and museum also exhibit works of some of the other artists that existed in the time of Charles Umlauf, and has ambitious goals of one day becoming the leading art gallery and institution in the city of Austin. The current-day park features serene and calming environments all around the gardens with trees, carefully maintained grass and hedges, and of course, the masterworks of Charles Umlauf strategically placed to give the whole place an air of calming respite from the hustle and bustle of the city around it.
The park has accessible paths for both pedestrians and people in wheelchairs, and also has a waterfall and streams of water that provide a real sense of being out in the woods next to mother nature. In fact, a lot of the paths being used today were once laid out by Charles Umlauf’s children, who dug them out and laid them with pebbles and stones. And a lot of the flowerbeds present today in the garden were in fact once planted by Angeline Umlauf herself. They were well aware of how magical the whole place was, which makes their decision to donate it all away seem even more generous.
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum might still be competing for the leading art gallery in Austin, but it sure has made a ton of progress you’d be hard-pressed to find alternatives to. The park changing with the seasons, coupled with the small occasional performances that take place there, make the whole place definitely one to visit and cherish. If you do decide to visit it, we’re more than likely to bet you’d want to come back for a second visit very soon. Looking for another art museum to visit? Kimbell Art Museum might be worth checking out. Looking for a museum grounded more in science than in the arts? The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History has exhibits that will more than satisfy your scientific curiosity.