1939, cast stone
Although he did not serve in WWII, Umlauf has noted that War Mother was his response to the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. Lacking finances to pour bronze, the young sculptor poured a mixture of limestone aggregate and statuary cement into a mold. The accolades and criticism surrounding this work caught the attention of the University of Texas’s new art department who invited him to teach in 1941.
This abstract interpretation of a female figure, one of the artist's earliest carvings, owes a debt to Cubist sculpture. The young Umlauf carried Indiana limestone with him when he moved to Austin, unsure what kind of materials would be available. Little did he know how pervasive limestone is in central Texas.
In 1945, Umlauf made the model for Refugees II in response to WWII's devastation; he finally cast it in bronze in 1970. Refugees of all kinds—men, women, and children—were a frequent theme for Umlauf, whose own family was subjected to anti-German sentiment in the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, the artist's name was changed to Charles from Karl to seem more American.