A Trip To Waco: Picking up a gift of sculpture from artist Karl Umlauf

A few months ago, Art Department faculty member Jack Titus approached me asking if the Museum would be interested in a gift of work from his former professor, mentor, and friend, sculptor Karl Umlauf. I was very enthusiastic: we have a dramatic pastel drawing by Umlauf in the permanent collection already, so a gift of three-dimensional work would complement our existing holdings while giving us representation of this well-known artist in his primary medium. Umlauf invited us down to his studio, in the process of relocation, to pick up two large-scale works. Carla Shelton, collection registrar, organized the trip, and took along Jordan Griffis, who wrote this week’s blog post.

In mid-December, Carla and I traveled to Waco, Texas, to pick up a gift from Karl Umlauf.

Mr. Umlauf, a former art professor and artist in residence at Baylor University, donated two of his wall sculptures to our OSUMA collection – thanks to an OSU connection with current faculty member Jack Titus, a former student of his.

Carla and Umlauf in the artist's new storage area.

Carla and Umlauf in the artist’s new storage area.

The largest piece was 8 feet long, so Carla and I jumped in a 12-passenger cargo van – which has all of 8 feet and 4 inches of space – and headed to Waco (hoping Mr. Umlauf’s measurements weren’t off by even an inch or two).

Karl Umlauf's studio—soon to be torn down to make way for highway construction!

Karl Umlauf’s current studio—soon to be torn down to make way for highway construction!

In Waco, Mr. Umlauf was generous enough to take us to the studio where he works, which is a lumber company turned mattress factory turned barn/storage space. One of the oldest buildings in Waco – soon to be destroyed due to I 35 construction, the activity of which can be heard at all times in the studio – this space was one of the most unexpected excitements of the whole trip. I couldn’t get enough of the huge, open building with so much character.

Karl Umlauf, "Memorial," 1990. Acrylic on bovine bone, fiberglass, redwood and cedar wood. Gift of Karl and Shirley Umlauf, 2012.019.002.

Karl Umlauf, “Memorial,” 1990. Acrylic on bovine bone, fiberglass, redwood and cedar wood. Gift of Karl and Shirley Umlauf, 2012.019.002.

The sculptures he gave us, partly inspired by geological formations of land, look kind of archeological and organic and even contain bones from actual cattle he raised for years in Texas, which he said makes the pieces hold personal significance.

Umlauf talking with Carla about his work.

Umlauf talking with Carla about his work.

(And we were happy to find that they both fit perfectly in the back of our van, wrapped in four-inch foam and plastic nonetheless.)

Loading the van—before and after.

Loading the van—before and after.

We even got to see some of the other sculptural pieces he’s working on, including some cool ones made from machinery and auto parts. After we got the works loaded in our van, we continued our journey by going across town to see his new space – primarily storage with a smaller workspace. We saw evidence of his fascinating and varied career as he led us through almost 40 years worth of artwork.

Detail of a sculpture by Umlauf that incorporates machine parts.

Detail of a sculpture by Umlauf that incorporates machine parts.

Our two newest pieces are now safely home in Stillwater and still completely intact (insert huge sigh of relief from Jordan and Carla). Seeing Mr. Umlauf’s collection in person and getting to know him in Waco made us hopeful that this is the beginning of a bigger partnership/relationship between him and the OSUMA and we’re excited to explore some opportunities.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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