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Mysteries of McCombs: The ‘Family’ Statue

By Samantha Grasso and Melyssa Fairfield

Many unexplained and unusual items fill the McCombs School of Business. This series will explore their stories.

Family statue sketch

The mystery: A 15-foot, 6-inch bronze statue rises up on the south side of the McCombs School of Business. Depicting a man, woman, and child looking toward the sky, "Family" is one of many pieces on campus sculpted by Charles Umlauf, former art professor emeritus at The University of Texas at Austin.

Created over 1960 and 1961, "Family," — commonly referred to as "The Family Group" —represents the most basic economic unit of society. It is Umlauf's first piece commissioned for the UT campus. Umlauf supervised the statue's casting in Italy and its installation in front of the business school in 1962.

The creator: Umlauf, a notable 20th-century American artist from Chicago, accepted a position of instructor in sculpture with the new College of Fine Arts at UT Austin in 1941. He remained on the UT faculty until he retired 40 years later. The New York Times noted that Umlauf died after a lengthy illness on Nov. 19, 1994.

According to Katie Robinson Edwards, curator at Austin's Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum, the artist began gaining recognition across the nation after he was chosen to create the Spirit of Flight piece at Dallas Love Field Airport in 1959.  She says this may have contributed to the business school wanting to commission a piece soon after.

History: "Family" has seen a few changes since its installation. Until 2004, a section of greenery surrounded the sculpture as a part of an original plan to have a xeriscape garden in which the bushes were planned to maintain themselves and add to the beauty of the statue.

Umlauf Family garden statue

"The garden idea didn't work," says Susie Brown, associate dean for business affairs at McCombs. "The bushes just grew up all around it and you could barely see the statue."

As a part of a plaza reconstruction in 2004, the garden was taken out and a pedestal was built to emphasize the statue.

Since the renovation in 2004, the statue hasn't seen any other changes — except when an unknown prankster stuck a Red Bull can to the baby figure's outstretched hand last semester.

"It was finals week, so the prank was accurate," Brown says. "The can was quickly removed and other than that the family hasn’t been touched."

Other works: A few other Umlauf statues decorate the UT Austin campus. "Torchbearers" is positioned at the main entrances of the Flawn Academic Center (FAC). "Mother and Child" sits on the south side of the Etter-Harbin Alumni Center. "The Three Muses," once situated on the roof garden of the FAC, has been temporarily moved from Centennial Park, and will be incorporated into a green space in the Dell Medical School district, according to KUT Austin.

In 1985, Umlauf and his wife, Angeline, donated their home and over 250 sculptures to the city of Austin, some of which became part of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in 1991. A smaller version of "The Family Group" statue can be found at the museum. Another full-size casting of the statue was installed at the Waterwood National Resort and Country Club in Huntsville, Texas, until the club's demolition in 2013.

What it means: Umlauf had a vision that focused on family, which is proven on the statue's inscription: "The family is the foundation upon which the world of business is built, and it is a vital force in the local, state, and national economy."

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