Most of us don’t appreciate rocks. Take it from a guy who has dug his share of West Texas postholes.
Only an artist with uncommon imagination sees beauty in boulders. Our world is fortunate that Frank Teich, the Sculptor of the Hills, did not share my myopic foresight and puny artistic vision.
Frank Teich was born in Lobenstein, Germany on Sept. 22, 1856. His father was a well-known newspaper editor, writer and poet.
As soon as Teich completed high school, his father sent him to Nuremburg to study art. He took private drawing lessons from some of the most famous artists in Germany.
Teich developed an interest in architecture. He spent a year with Franciscan monks rebuilding the Monastery at Dettelbach, destroyed during the Thirty Years War.
Teich was in Beirut during the dedication of the Opera House. As he sketched a stone fountain near the building, Richard Wagner, the Czarina of Russia and Kaiserin Friedrich, the wife of Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia strolled by. Wagner introduced himself, admired Teich’s drawings and gave the youngster a ticket to the opera.
Next, Teich studied sculpture anatomy and ancient history at the University of Leipzig. In Dresden, he worked with Professor Johannes Schilling, carving the monument known as “The Watch on the Rhine,” commissioned to celebrate the unification of Germany.
With a lifetime of experience for a 22-year-old, Teich arrived in New York in 1878. He wanted to carve statues, but that kind of work was hard to come by.
So, he found more practical ways to use his talents. In Milwaukee, he supervised the building of a brewery. In Chicago, he supervised a crew of stonecutters building the Cook County Courthouse. For three years, he worked for a marble company in St. Louis.
Like many Germans, Teich followed the railroad to San Antonio. In 1883, he did the stone carving on the John Hermann Kampmann building in Alamo Plaza. He supervised the building of the San Antonio City Hall.
He did the granite work on the entrance to the Moorish-style San Antonio National Bank on Commerce Street — now the law office of Pat Maloney. The granite came from Bear Mountain, four miles north of Fredericksburg. It was the first commercial use of Texas granite.
Contractor Gustav Wilke hired Teich to supervise the cutting and laying of every granite block used to build the state capitol in Austin. Teich was one of the few men in Texas with the unique stonecutting and carving skills to do the job.
In 1894, Teich built the granite courthouse overlooking the Trinity River in Fort Worth.
Back in San Antonio, Teich opened an office on Houston Street. His marble and granite yard occupied a site next to Alamo Plaza — where the Emily Morgan Hotel is today.
In 1900, Teich moved his business to Llano and returned to his first love: statues and monuments.
The City of Houston commissioned Teich to produce its first public work of art: the Dick Dowling statue in Hermann Park. At his studio in Llano, Teich chiseled the life-sized figure from a single block of Italian marble.
Angels watch over cemeteries. Teich carved a host of them, including the angel at the grave of James A. Baker Sr. in Houston’s Glenwood Cemetery. Baker was founder of the law firm Baker and Botts and grandfather to James A. Baker III, who served in the administrations of three U.S. presidents.
Teich carved the confederate monument in Travis Park in San Antonio. He did the monument to Texas firefighters on the capital grounds in Austin. His full-sized marble likeness of legendary Texas cattleman Shangai Pierce stands in Hawley Cemetery near Blessing.
Teich’s monument to La Salle is in Navasota. Teich molded the figure of the French explorer in plaster of Paris; then cast it at a foundry in New York. The base is Llano County granite.
Frank Teich, the Sculptor of the Hills, spent the last years of his life working at his studio in Llano. He felt at home in Llano County — a rock lover’s paradise if there ever was one.