Visiting a Hill Country Sculpture Ranch

Landscape architect Ciel Williams (center) discusses his design for displaying the sculptures at the ranch. Umlauf Museum curator Katie Robinson Edwards is at far left. (author photos)

Hi everyone! I’m back. For the last few months, a family emergency has needed all my time and energy, but things have calmed down somewhat now. I’m happy to be back and talking about art around Austin.

Umlauf’s Standing Bather II, 1958

Today I want to tell you about a glorious January day I spent in the Hill Country on an excursion to view the largest collection of sculptures by Charles Umlauf in private hands. This jaunt to Star Canyon Ranch, the home of Mary and Bill Mitchell, was organized by the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum.

The large group of art lovers traveled together on a bus from the museum in downtown Austin to the ranch in Dripping Springs. We were met by Mr. Mitchell and Ciel Williams, the landscape architect who worked with the couple to realize their vision at the ranch.

As we walked through the grounds covered in enormous trees dappled with beautiful sunshine, Williams detailed the decades-long process of turning Star Canyon Ranch into an outdoor art gallery. Mr. Mitchell shared some stories of how they acquired some of pieces — a few purchased directly from Mrs. Umlauf after the sculptor’s death.

Umlauf’s Mother and Child (Seated), 1970

Combined, the house and grounds show more than two dozen works by Umlauf in bronze, wood, and other materials. Other artists are also featured. The collection focuses on Texas artists.

The dully gleaming bronzes, usually placed atop natural limestone boulders pressed into service as pedestals, created a calm atmosphere for us as as we walked between the Texas trees to the accompaniment of light breeze. It was a great experience, and I couldn’t help but appreciate the unique “Texas-ness” of the place. I’ve been to other sculpture gardens — in Texas, the U.S., and Europe — but I’d never seen this combination of fine art in such a familiar, wild yet beautiful, environment with only minimal enhancements to make the most of the Hill Country landscape. This was high art, Texas style.

Want to visit? Star Canyon Ranch is normally not open to the public, but the Umlauf museum works with the Mitchells to bring folks to tour it every so often. Check with the museum for information on future tours.


Published by Rebecca Johnson

Writer and editor covering arts and culture in Austin, Texas and beyond.

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