Elisabet Ney: Sculpting a Texas Legacy
By Jay Burns
As a girl growing up in the 1830s in Münster, Westphalia, Elisabet Ney loved to watch her father carve stone in his workshop. She dreamed of becoming a great sculptor herself. Her parents told her that women were not allowed to take sculpting classes, but Elisabet was strong-willed and would not give up.
Still undaunted at the age of 19, Elisabet applied for admission to the Munich Academy of Art. When director Wilhelm von Kaulbach refused to enroll her (a woman would cause too much of a stir in a class of young men), she began training with a private teacher. Von Kaulbach eventually relented, and he admitted her to the academy on a trial basis in 1852.
Elisabet worked hard and in a few years earned a scholarship to study in Berlin under master sculptor Christian Rauch. He was so impressed with her skill and discipline that he introduced her to potential clients who were important political and intellectual leaders. She soon began a busy career, sculpting philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, philologist Jacob Grimm, King Ludwig II of Bavaria, naturalist Baron Alexander von Humboldt, Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi, and King George V of Hanover, among many others.
While visiting a friend in Heidelberg in 1853, Elisabet met a Scottish medical student named Edmund Duncan Montgomery. Ten years later, they were married on the island of Madeira, where Dr. Montgomery had a medical practice. (He had a studio built for Elisabet there, as well.) The couple (along with their lifelong Austrian housekeeper, Cencie Simath) later immigrated to the United States, possibly to escape the Franco-Prussian War. After locating first in Georgia, Elisabet and Edmund moved to Texas, where they purchased the once legendary Liendo Plantation near Hempstead in 1873. While Edmund conducted scientific research, Elisabet oversaw their crops and helped care for their two young children, Arthur and Lorne. Tragically, Arthur contracted diphtheria when he was not yet two, and he died shortly after their arrival.
From the July 2007 issue.
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