HerStory: Elisabet Ney, Sculptor
One of Austin’s most great, prolific sculptors — an artist who created figures of great, prolific men — wore pants. This was back in the late 19th century, making it a big thing that the artist, Elisabet Ney, was a woman.
It was such a big thing, in fact, to be both a woman and an artist, that Ney undertook a hunger strike to lobby her parents for permission to become a sculptor. When she eventually enrolled in Munich Academy of Art, she was the institute’s first female student.
Not content to just be a sculptor, Ney excelled, winning commissions of Very Important Men of the era, including Richard Wagner, Jacob Grimm (of the Brothers Grimm), Otto von Bismarck, and King George V of Hanover.
At some point, in the midst of all that success, Ney reluctantly married physician and philosopher Edmund Montgomery — reluctantly because she viewed marriage as a state of oppression for women. She kept her maiden name — this was in 1863.
In 1892, after a 20 year hiatus from sculpting, Elisabet Ney and her husband made Austin, Texas their home with the purchase of a plot of land that was then on the outskirts of town (it's now in Hyde Park). It was there that she established her studio — dubbed Formosa — and there that she created the model figures of Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin with a $32,000 funding assist from the Texas legislature. That's more than $800,000 dollars today.
Formosa also became a gathering place for the creatives of Austin to meet, mingle, and discuss issues of the day. Ney became a momentous force in the creation of a Texas art scene — and she wore pants while doing it.
Years after her death, in 1911, her friends established the Texas Fine Arts Association, or what is now known as the Contemporary Austin, to honor her memory.
Ney’s influence lives on in a thriving Texas arts scene that we are proud to be a part of. This Thursday, August 10, in the tradition of the sculptor, we'll host a discussion with artist Neta Bomani as part of our Meet Her Hands series. We hope you'll join us.