An artist’s legacy withstands test of time

Mike Fowler shares stories about his father, Mel Fowler, during Saturday’s dedication of a new sculpture to the International Sculpture Park. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

Mike Fowler shares stories about his father, Mel Fowler, during Saturday’s dedication of a new sculpture to the International Sculpture Park. (Photo by Kathy Canady)

By SHELLY WILKISON

The short trip from Hutto to Liberty Hill stirs fond memories of a time when Mike Fowler’s father was close enough to share a glass of wine and good conversation.

From his studio in the old Stubblefield Building on Main Street, Mel Fowler created an unknown number of sculptures and inspired the community to propel itself to the forefront of the international art world.

“When Dad came to Liberty Hill  (in 1971) he immersed himself into art like a madman,” said Mike Fowler, the eldest of Mel Fowler’s two sons and a real estate broker in Hutto. “His art was inspired by classical music, reading and his own creative thoughts” — creativity that his son partly attributes to his love for Liberty Hill and the beauty of Central Texas.

Mel Fowler, who passed away in 1987 at his home in Italy, was remembered Saturday as part of the dedication of a new home for the Liberty Hill International Sculpture Park. The collection of sculptures, which is currently housed on the campus of Liberty Hill Junior High, will be moved to Lions Foundation Park.

Mel Fowler, described as a visionary by his family and those in the art world, forever changed the Liberty Hill landscape in 1976 when he invited the most talented sculptors from across the globe to raise giant pieces of art from Central Texas limestone. The Liberty Hill International Sculpture Symposium was the first event of its kind in the Southwest.

“It (the International Sculpture Symposium of 1976) reflected what was happening in the most avant guarde centers of the country at that time,” said Mary Morris, president of the Texas Society of Sculptors. “Artists were exploring pure forms, creating huge things.”

Ms. Morris, a sculptor and retired university professor who now lives in Austin, is leading the organization that Fowler founded in 1972. Much like his vision for the sculpture symposium in Liberty Hill, Ms. Morris said Fowler saw the need to create an organization that would promote sculpture as an art form in Texas.

“They (sculptors at that time) were missing the stimulus that artists need. They were looking for input, and the exchange with other artists,” she said. “TSOS was founded with that intention.”

Ms. Morris said those living in the Liberty Hill area during the sculpture symposium were “blessed to see the process” of changing tons of rock into art forms.

“You (Liberty Hill) have a real jewel here,” she said.

Ms. Morris and TSOS volunteers will be assisting the Development Foundation with the sculpture relocation efforts, helping to restore some pieces that have weathered over time.

Fowler said his father discovered Liberty Hill through his friendship with Oscar “Ozzie” Klein during the Vietnam War.

Mel Fowler served 32 years as a fighter pilot in the US Air Force and retired at the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1971. Prodding from Klein, who was serving in the OSS at that time, brought him to Liberty Hill where he would find inspiration to devote the rest of his life to art.

“Art and flying were the things that Dad loved most,” his son said.

As a young man, Mel Fowler obtained his father’s permission to join the Royal Canadian Air Force “for a chance to fight Hitler” during World War II, Mike Fowler said. When the United States entered the war, Mel Fowler transferred to a US detachment. After World War II, he served in Korea and Vietnam and ended his career as a highly decorated pilot.

On Saturday, Fowler’s many metals, his flight jacket and photographs were on display.

“He could do things with an airplane that were unbelievable,” said Mike Fowler, adding that his father had a real respect for flying. At the time of his death in 1987, Fowler was building an airplane that he planned to fly around the world.

During his military service, Fowler spent a great deal of time drawing. During his service in Vietnam where he flew some 240 combat missions, his paintings became impressionistic, his son said.

After retirement from the military, Fowler was recruited by Klein, who passed away in 1997, to serve in the CIA and was assigned to Italy where he spent about six months of every year.

Mike Fowler, who is writing a book about his father, said his death at his home in Italy in September 1987 was suspicious and he has spent a great deal of time searching for answers from the CIA.

After his death, Fowler’s ashes were spread from an airplane over the Liberty Hill International Sculpture Park.

“The people of Liberty Hill are so fortunate to have something like this here,” he said.