Guest Writer: Kylie Osborne
From Oct.19 to Nov. 9, the Wilson Gallery will be housing a new exhibit. The artworks on display will be those of German sculptor Otto Flath.
Although it is unknown to many, AU has a large permanent collection of art with over 1,000 pieces in possession. One of the larger collections under AU’s ownership includes the works of Otto Flath. After Flath visited AU in the 1980s, the school became a permanent owner of more than 35 of his works.
Otto Flath is known for his biblically themed figurative wood sculptures, but none of the pieces owned by AU are actual sculptures. All 35 pieces are various drawings that most likely preceded the sculptures he made. Professor Tai Lipan, director of university galleries and instructor of art, explained them to be “drawings and outlines of the pieces he planned on making.”
Flath’s figures in these drawings, along with his sculptures “evoke the emotional qualities of his biblically themed characters.”
Flath was born on May 9, 1903 in a small village outside of Kiev, the capital city of the Ukraine. He grew up in the age of World War I, a time during which great destitution was brought to German families, including his. The outbreak of the Russian Revolution drove the Flath family to a starvation march in 1917 through Russia from the Ukraine to Latvia where a German steamer brought the refugees to a northern state in Germany.
After traveling from the Ukraine, the Flath family made Germany their home. Otto grew up and continued his education there.
Once his formal schooling ended, Flath took an apprenticeship with ivory sculptor Karl Schneider in Germany where he learned the trade for three years. After completing his apprenticeship, Flath was still fraught with economic trials, so he decided to continue his training by attending the Art and Trade School of Kiel, Germany where he trained as a figurative wood sculptor for two additional years.
After many tough economic years of just scraping by, the great turning point in his life came in 1932. The Burmester family, a high standing family of officers and artists, chose to take him in. In their agreement, they would provide a workshop and supplies, and he would provide them with his work.
The Burmester family had a great influence on the spiritual emphasis within his work. The family was very strong in their faith, so most of the work that he did for them focused on biblical themes. Because of this, Flath’s figures lost the characteristic turbulent stylization that was formed throughout his years of training.
According to Lipan, “This family was of great influence on his life and truly shaped his work and style.”
Without the Burmester family, it is likely that he would not have been as successful as a sculptor, nor would his works be biblically themed and faith-based.
Among his sculptural works are many altar pieces, some of which stand in various churches in multiple cities through out Germany. One of his most famous works, The Altar of the Revelation, is housed in Neumunster and contains over 250 masterfully carved figures.
The permanent collection of drawings by Flath at AU provide a specific window into Flath’s prolific study of the figure. From gestural ink brushwork to contemplative color pencil drawings, Flath’s figures evoke the emotive qualities of his biblically themed characters.
The art being shown in the Wilson Gallery is more than an exhibit of biblically-themed drawings. It tells a story of Otto Flath’s trials and tribulations. He was successful despite the hard times he and his family faced with the help of the Burmester family and faith in God.
Lipan describes the exhibit and the Otto Flath’s artwork as “beautiful, gestural and biblical-themed art” that everyone should take a chance to see. Anderson University, a liberal arts and Christian university, is a place for cross disciplinary education and cultural cultivation. Artwork, such as the works of Otto Flath being displayed in Wilson Gallery beginning October 19 contributes to that education and cultivation and is important for all students to experience.
The Wilson Gallery is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and is open to the public.