Um­lauf ea­gle flies to new home

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - INSIGHT - By Michael Barnes

Does any­one re­mem­ber the ea­gle that stood at First Fed­eral Plaza in front of an an­gled, mir­ror-clad of­fice build­ing op­po­site St. Mary’s Cathe­dral at 208 E. 10th St.? Well, the Charles Um­lauf sculp­ture, orig­i­nally un­veiled June 18, 1968, landed on Sept. 11 on its nat­u­ral turf at the Um­lauf Sculp­ture Gar­den and Mu­seum.

Ac­cord­ing to the Um­lauf re­searchers, in 1967 the First Fed­eral Sav­ings and Loan As­so­ci­a­tion sought a ma­jor American artist to cre­ate a land­mark sculp­ture. Pres­i­dent John T. Ma­hone se­lected Um­lauf, and they agreed that the sub­ject would be the bank’s sym­bol, an American ea­gle.

Um­lauf sub­mit­ted a signed pen­cil and conté draw­ing of a bald ea­gle land­ing on a rock with its wings out­stretched, re­searchers say. As was char­ac­ter­is­tic of Um­lauf ’s process, the de­sign changed slightly from the draw­ing to the wax mod­els and the fi­nal larg­erthan-life bronze.

Ma­hone wrote to Um­lauf, “I am sure that First Fed­eral peo­ple as well as all the Austin cit­i­zens will de­rive plea­sure from this beau­ti­ful ex­am­ple of your tal­ents for many years.”

In 1975, the state pur­chased the struc­ture, which be­came Thomas Jef­fer­son Rusk State Trea­sury Build­ing, and Um­lauf ’s ea­gle be­came state prop­erty. Over time, it was ob­scured by a metal rail­ing and was in need of pro­fes­sional con­ser­va­tion.

So how do you ne­go­ti­ate with the state of Texas to ob­tain its prop­erty? The Steen fam­ily knows how. Roberta Cren­shaw, the bene­fac­tor most re­spon­si­ble for the Um­lauf mu­seum, en­listed Lias “Bubba” Steen from the State Pur­chas­ing and Gen­eral Ser­vices Com­mis­sion to ne­go­ti­ate a land swap with the city of Austin to ob­tain the grounds where the sculp­ture gar­den now lies. His son, Jen­nings Steen, a cur­rent mem­ber of the Um­lauf board, fol­lowed in that tra­di­tion and helped ne­go­ti­ate a long-term loan of the ea­gle to the mu­seum. How’s that for a happy end­ing?

Con­tact Michael Barnes at 512-445-3970 or mbarnes@ states­ Twit­ter: @outand­about


Charles Um­lauf’s American ea­gle sculp­ture was orig­i­nally un­veiled June 18, 1968, in First Fed­eral Plaza.

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