Sculptor returns to Liberty Hill after 42 years
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Perched on the edge of a piece of Liberty Hill history he created, Deeter Hastenteufel smiled as he shared the story with anyone interested, of how he ended up here in the first place.
His piece, “Frozen Motion”, sits with more than two dozen other works in Liberty Hill’s International Sculpture Park, silently keeping the story of a historic art event alive. Hastenteufel was happy to share the story the sculptures could not.
“I’m extremely excited about being here,” Hastenteufel said. “I must say, I’ve been at other symposiums, but Liberty Hill was the most exciting because it was the first one. After that I did Yugoslavia and Austria.”
In 1976, without the benefit of social media or such speedy ease of communication, Hastenteufel heard about the symposium being put together by local resident and artist Mel Fowler through the wire.
“He always was in love with sculpture and had a good knowledge of art history,” he said. “So he organized it and the news came through the wire. Today we have Facebook and things like that, but these things didn’t exist. But there was a wire and the news spread out from Carrara, Italy, and into the artist community in those days.”
When asked how 20 sculptors from around the world were attracted to unknown Liberty Hill for such an event, Hastenteufel mentioned only the influence of one man.
“Liberty Hill at the time had a dynamic figure called Mel Fowler,” he said. “Mel, as people know, he was a fighter pilot in the air force, so Mel had developed a skill to organize things. He could not only organize people, but situations, and he was very resourceful.”
Born in Switzerland, Hastenteufel had moved to Canada, and received a project travel grant from the Ontario Art Council when he set a course for Central Texas.
“I came down with Bart Uchida,” he said. “We had a school where we both taught. We drove down in my Volkswagen bus. The grant was enough for us to drive down, get the gas and have some pocket money so we could make it.”
It may not sound like the sculptors were living the high life of rich artists, but Hastenteufel said it was an exciting version of the good life that was very new to them.
“Actually in Teas we did (live the high life),” he said of the experience. “Whatever people think about Texas, I learned in those days – I don’t know what it is now – but people had pickup trucks with rifle racks in the back, and you could drive your motorcycle without a helmet.
“We stayed at a farm with three people. They lent the farmhouse to us, fed us, stuffed the fridge for us,” he said.
And of course there was a fair amount of steak and barbecue, he said as he held his hands wide.
“There were steaks like this,” he said. “Texas was wonderful, and the whole community was great. Without the support of the community Mel wouldn’t have been able to pull it off.”
The artists not only created the works, but did a lot of the work setting up the event and gathering the materials.
“Getting just the stones was overwhelming,” he said. “Then compressors and power for the grinders and saws.”
There was a lot of friendship built in the memories of the event, even in simpler things like bringing in materials.
“Tom (Sayre) had a truck and I drove it into Austin and we got the steel,” he said. “We got it up here, and we still had to bend it, cut it and this was all done on site. That was an important trip for me.”
And daily, whether it was finding materials or working on site, the connection and cohesion was evident and important for the artists.
“It is all hands on this,” he said. “This was a working place with chisels, grinders, jackhammers going all the time, and everyone helps everyone. I have photos where there are three or four people putting things together. When you needed help you just yelled and all would come and help.”
Long days working together led to evenings of more sharing.
“At 9 a.m. everyone was on the field with their chisel,” Hastenteufel said. “It is dusty everywhere because someone is cutting with a grinder, we’re all wearing masks just chiseling away. Of course at night, we celebrate.”
The park may house the works of many different artists, but for Hastenteufel, each piece is somewhat of a collaboration.
“This is my piece, but there are a lot of people in there,” he said. “That’s what the symposium is. You have the exchange of people from France, Italy, Japan, Texas and others.”
As Hastenteufel, who still resides in Canada, looked over the work he created at the 1976 Symposium, he appreciated how well it had held up, with only a small piece off one corner.
“I’m really surprised at how well it has been holding up,” he said.
The sculpture began as a small piece presented at the beginning of the Symposium along with those of the other artists, so everyone could see what the plans of others were.
“When we came, we all would make a model of what we wanted to do and there was an exhibition at Mel Fowler’s house,” he said.
He laughs when he talks about the title and the original vision he had for the work.
“‘Frozen Motion’ is a very poetic title if I think about it now, but I think the basic idea in my spaced out mind, I saw these plains floating in outer space where there is no gravity,” Hastenteufel said.
His thoughts carried further as he imagined the final product and what it might look like.
“Then I imagined a meteor hitting these plains and I was wondering what would it look like,” he said. “The first sheet has the hardest impact and then it is a chain reaction.”
The final step in planning was to ask himself how he could make that come through in the work.
“When it gets bigger it is not so easy and it takes on a slightly different idea, and the stone never really enters, it is just the moment before. It is artistic freedom that you can predict what will happen and that’s really the idea.”
He appreciates the chance so many years later to share his mark on Liberty Hill, but like the other sculptors in attendance at the Liberty Hill Sculpture Festival Oct. 13, Hastenteufel looks around the park and immediately recognizes what a treasure the community has, contrasted against what a challenge it faces.
“It is an enormous challenge,” he said. “It is a very special community that can bring that energy together and then find the finances. It takes money to take care of these things. The secret is in the people involved. These are the pillars of this and why the sculptures are still here.”