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Cranbrook Mourns the Passing of Julius Schmidt

June 30th, 2017

Julius Schmidt Courtesy Cranbrook Archives

It is with heavy hearts that the Cranbrook community mourns the passing of sculptor and past Artist-in-Residence Julius Schmidt (June 2, 1923 – June 20, 2017). An alumnus of the Academy, he was awarded both a BFA (’53) and MFA (’55) in Sculpture, and served as Artist-in-Residence of the Sculpture department from 1964-68.

Schmidt began his career serving as an aerial gunner in the Navy during World War II before attending college at Oklahoma A&M, where he learned about chemistry, geology, and metallurgy which benefitted him in his practice. His next stop was Cranbrook Academy of Art where he earned his BFA degree in 1953. He studied sculpture under Ossip Zadkine in Paris and at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence, Italy, returning to Cranbrook for his MFA.

While serving as Artist-in-Residence at the Academy, Schmidt first introduced iron casting into the academic environment. Prior to the 1960s, most artists had to rely on commercial foundries to cast their sculpture. According to Schmidt, “entrusting the casting to foundry men, the sculptor never learned all he should about materials and processes and thus the range of his imagination and achievement was inhibited.” Schmidt succeeded in developing cupolas (furnaces for melting iron) and foundry processes specifically for the needs of the artist. Through Schmidt’s drive for innovative techniques, such as adapting from industry the core sand method of mold making, combined with his intense dedication to research, he succeeded in putting metal casting directly into the hands of the sculptor.

His contributions to the art world and to the countless students he mentored garnered him the unofficial title, “grandfather of cast iron sculpture.” In 1998, Schmidt received the Outstanding Educator Award from the International Sculpture Center. His work was included in the 1959 exhibition Sixteen Americans at the Museum of Modern Art, and he gained international recognition in 1963 with inclusion in the VII Bienal in Sao Paulo, Brazil and in Sculpture in the Open Air in London. He was also invited to the White House Festival of Arts in 1965. His work appears in over 30 museums worldwide and in dozens of public and private collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Modern Art, Walker Art Center, Whitney Museum of American Art, Nelson-Atkins Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Chase-Manhatten Bank, and the Nelson Rockefeller Collection.

In addition to his time at Cranbrook, Schmidt served as Chairman of the Sculpture Department at the Kansas City Art Institute from 1955-1959, and also taught at Rhode Island School of Design and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1970, he accepted a position as Head of the Graduate Sculpture Department at the University of Iowa, where he remained until his retirement in 1993.