Octavio Medellin

Honorary Life Member  -  1977

In 1977 the Dallas Chapter of the Fine Arts Association, now the Texas Visual Arts Association, recognized Octavio Medellin’s many accomplishments by naming him as an Honorary Life Member of the organization.  He joined such artists as Otis and Velma Dozier, Jerry Bywaters, and DeForrest Judd to be so honored.  The Dallas Visual Arts Center acknowledged his determination, work ethic, and understanding spirit with one of its annual “Legend” awards in 1996, established to recognize individuals who have made significant contributions to the arts in Texas.

Due in large part to his generosity of spirit and eye for talent, Medellin had always been a force for bringing people together in order to make the most of their abilities.  This focus on individuals, along with his unfailing humility and courtliness, has inspired deep affection and loyalty from generations of his students.  This concern also is reflected in remarks made by Medellin concerning his 1930 travels in Mexico, which could serve as a summation of his philosophy of art and life: “I went to Mexico to see art.  Actually, the art was the people.  To see the people.  To learn about the people.  Because I have a spirit of their universe.  People to me are all the same.  It makes no difference what color they are . . . Sculpture, I do it the same way.  I don’t care to do a particular race or anything, but I do a figure.”

Born in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico, in 1907, Octavio Medellin fled to San Antonio at the age of thirteen with his Otami Indian family during the Mexican Revolution.  His early years were frought with family hardships: two of his siblings died in infancy and his father, a min supervisor who also played classical violin, fell victim to the Revolution’s violence after returning without his family to Mexico when Octavio was fourteen.  During his youth, Medellin sold newspapers to support his art studies at the San Antonio Art Institute under Jose Arpa and Xavier Gonzales.  In 1928, he moved to Chicago and studied at the Art Institute while working as a busboy at the Palmer House Hotel.

After a year of study at the institute, Medellin moved to Mexico but was denied admission to the Art Academy due to his lack of formal education.  Instead, he traveled throughout the country, observing native customs, art forms, and craft techniques, particularly those of the Indians of the Yucatan peninsula.  This was a pivotal time for Medellin, as he became aware of the power and expression of his own artistic heritage.  These expressions proved to be a strong influence on his artistic development and life’s work and marked the beginning of his friendships with some of Mexico’s leading painters and sculptors, such as Carlos Merida.

In 1931, Medellin moved back to San Antonio and began teaching sculpture at the Witte Museum and, along with several other artists founded La Villita Gallery.  In 1938 one of his patrons and student Lucy Maverick provided him with funds to study the Mayan-Toltec ruins at Chichen Itza and Uzmal.  The enduring closeness of the sculptor’s family is evidenced by the fact that he was accompanied by his wife Consuelo and their two young children, Patricia and Sergio, during his entire six-month residence in Piste.  His drawings made during this time served as the basis for the portfolio, XTOL: Dance of the Ancient Mayan People.

After his return from Mexico, Medellin started teaching at North Texas State Teachers College.  During World War Ii he became a U.S. citizen and to demonstrate for the nation’s war effort, worked as a plaster pattern-maker at North American Aviation in Grand Prairie, as did a number of other artists such as Alexandre Hogue.  At this time Medellin also taught sculpture, ceramics, and mosaics at the DMFA.  He also taught sculpture classes periodically at Southern Methodist University.  In 1966 he opened the Medellin School of Sculpture at the Dallas Creative Arts Center until 1979 when the family moved to Bandera, Texas.

Medellin’s sculpture has been exhibited extensively in the Southwest, including the 1936 Texas Centennial, and throughout the nation, notably at the 1939 New York World’s Fair and the Museum of Modern Art.  In 1989, he was a featured sculptor in the retrospective survey exhibition, “A Century of Sculpture in Texas, 1889-1989,” at the University of Texas at Austin.  His innovative glass work and mosaics have been installed in venues ranging from churches and synagogues to Neiman Marcus’ Zodiac Room and, in perhaps his most extensive commissioned work, the Mercantile Bank Building in downtown Dallas.  Medellin’s career and works are included in the Jerry Bywaters Collections Wing at Southern Methodist University.

Octavio Medellin link:
SMU image collection

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