Not so very long ago, I was a carpenter and cabinetmaker. At the age of 50, I had the opportunity to make a change in my life and I chose to begin sculpting. My formal art education has included just a handful courses at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a few workshops at the Sloss Furnace and at the Birmingham Museum of Art. Overall, my most rewarding learning experiences have been under the mentor-ship of the late Cordray Parker, one of Birmingham’s best-known and well-respected bronze sculptors. As a result of this experience, I have been able to explore the nuances of mold making, casting and pouring bronze using the lost-wax method in a relatively short apprenticeship.
In addition, I have to acknowledge the influence of my artist-family — my brothers, my sisters as well as my late father, Charles Umlauf, a famous sculptor in his own right. I grew up in a home filled with life-size renditions of religious icons, studies of animals, figure studies and images drawn from Greek mythology. Although art was an integral part of my early life, only now in my latter years have I begun to try out my ideas in bronze, ceramics, wood and stone (marble, alabaster, honeycomb calcite). My strong work ethic has allowed me to fully invest myself in my artwork. I have even surprised myself by what I have been able to achieve starting with clay, wax or rough stone. Like my father, I prefer figurative work of the female form and compositions representing the family, as well as abstractions drawn from the medium itself.
When I look at the raw material, clay, wood or a stunning piece of alabaster, I take in the integrity and images within the material. The artist’s challenge is to take full advantage of the natural beauty of the materials and transform it into an emotive figure. The artist must maintain the strength of that natural state and imbue the new object with an esthetic value that is both tactile and visual.
One of the hallmarks of my work is that I am solely responsible for every step in the preparation of a sculpture. Many artists have contracts with bronze foundries to prepare molds, pour the bronze and apply patina finishes to their work. Others employ stone workers to rough out or polish marble or alabaster figures. These steps are tedious and labor intensive. However, I enjoy the labor and the creative demand of sculpting in marble, bronze and wood. In the end, the viewer is certain that every stroke and every mark is intentional and serves to convey my purpose.