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An example of Dellschau's work.

Charles August Albert Dellschau (4 June 1830 "Prussia – 20 April 1923 "Texas) was an American artist of Prussian birth. He is one of America's earliest known "outsider artists,[1] creating drawings, collages and watercolors of "airplanes and "airship that were discovered decades after his death.



Dellschau immigrated from Brandenburg, Prussia to Texas in 1853.[2] In 1861 he married Antonia Hilt in Richmond, Texas.[3] He had three children and one stepdaughter with Hilt.[4] He was a "butcher by trade and also worked in his stepdaughter's saddlery.[5] After his retirement in 1899, he filled at least 13 notebooks with drawings, watercolor paintings, and "collages depicting fantastical "airships.[6]

He lived with his stepdaughter and her husband and worked in their attic apartment in "Houston, Texas.[7]

Dellschau's earliest known work is a diary dated 1899, and the latest is an 80-page book dated 1921-1922, giving his career as an artist a 21-year span. His work was in large part a record of the activities of the Sonora Aero Club, of which he was a purported member.[8]

Dellschau's writings describe the club as a secret group of flight enthusiasts who met at "Sonora, California in the mid-19th century. One of the members had discovered the formula for an anti-gravity fuel he called "NB Gas." Their mission was to design and build the first navigable aircraft using the NB Gas for lift and propulsion. Dellschau called these flying machines Aeros. Dellschau does not claim to be a pilot of any of the airships; he identifies himself only as a draftsman for the Sonora Aero Club. His collages incorporate newspaper clippings (called "press blooms") of then-current news articles about aeronautical advances and disasters.[9]

Despite exhaustive research, including searches of census records, voting rosters, and death records, nothing has been found to substantiate the existence of this group except for a few gravestones in the Columbia Cemetery where several of the surnames are found. It is speculated that, like the voluminous "Realms of the Unreal" notebooks by outsider artist "Henry Darger (1882-1973), the Sonora Aero Club is a fiction by Dellschau.[10] However, according to UFO writer Pete Navarro, a coded story is hidden throughout the drawings, which he interprets to mean that the Sonora Aero Club was a branch of a larger secret society known only as NYMZA.

Dellschau is buried in the Washington cemetery in Houston.[3]

Posthumous recognition[edit]

His books were stored in his relative's home after his death. After this house burned in the 1960s, the entire body of work was discarded into a landfill in Houston, Texas.[11] It is unknown who salvaged the works but they ended up with a used furniture dealer, Fred Washington, who took them to his warehouse where they ended up under a pile of discarded carpet.[12] Mary Jane Victor, a student at St. Thomas University asked Mr. Washington to lend some of the books to the University for a display they were putting on representing the story of flight. The drawings so impressed Dominique de Menil, the Art Director of Rice University and one of Houston Texas' leading fine arts collectors that she bought four of the books from Mr. Washington. Commercial artist and UFO researcher Pete Navarro acquired the remaining books. The Witte and the San Antonio museum acquired four books each from Navarro. Of the remaining four books, two were ultimately sold to a commercial gallery in New York, one to the ABCD collection in Paris, and one other is in a private collection in NY.

Dellschau's first one-person exhibition "Charles Dellschau - Aeronautical notebooks" and its accompanying catalogue was held in 2000 at the Ricco/Maresca Gallery in New York City, some 75 years after his death.[13]

Several notebooks are in the collections of museums in "Texas such as the Witte (which mounted an exhibition of Dellschau and Da Vinci called "Flights of the Imagination") and the San Antonio Museum (which curated a solo exhibition of Dellschau entitled "Flight or Fancy? The Secret Life of Charles A. A. Dellschau", also shown at the Menillo Museum in Florida) and the DeMenil Museum. Dellschau's artwork is also in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum, and the ABCD Art Brut collection in Paris, which owns an entire book. Dellschau is also in the collection of the High Museum in Atlanta, the American Folk Art Museum in New York, the Philadelphia Museum, the John Michael Kohler Art Center and several prominent private collections in America and Europe. Several Dellschau drawings were put on display at the Museum of Everything, London England in 2009 as well as in Turin in 2010. The American Visionary Museum in Baltimore has shown the work of Dellschau on several occasions and the INTUIT Museum in Chicago presented a one-person exhibition of Dellschau's art in September 2012.

Dellschau is buried in Houston's Washington Cemetery in Stelzig Plot A-70. His last name is misspelled as "Dellschaw" probably as a result of the "u" being written with an elongated tail on his death certificate. His grave marker also abbreviates his name as C.A. Dellschaw (sic).

Charles Dellschau's life and art is the subject of a monograph released in the spring of 2013 produced by Marquand Books, Stephen Romano and distributed by "Distributed Art Publishers with essays by Thomas McEvilley, Tracy Baker-White, Roger Cardinal, James Brett, Thomas Crouch, Barbara Safarova and Randall Morris. The book has been reviewed positively in Raw Vision Magazine by Tom Patterson, Bookforum, Intuit magazine.

Critical analysis[edit]

Dellschau is regarded as one of America's earliest visionary artists. His work has been interpreted as a testimony to the sense of optimism that new technologies inspire as they change the way people see the world. Flight, up until that time, had been a metaphor for man's "pathos - or his inability to accomplish "what he was not meant to. Dellschau's work is also remarkable in that it uses the medium of watercolor brilliantly, often using water as the medium with a subtle tint of color.

Dellschau's work shows the influence of "circus banner painting, in its use of centralized subjects and ornamental borders, and often possesses a jewel-like quality. Reviewing the 1998 Ricco Maresca exhibition, the New York Times said:

…his images define a fleet of craft that, at their most recognizable, suggest eccentric balloons or "dirigibles, or flying carriages, and sometimes include pilots and passengers. Framed by further stripes, as well as words, names and numbers, the drawings intimate a "universe almost as elaborate as Rizzoli's in a style reminiscent of "Monty Python.[14]

The book The Secrets of Dellschau by Dennis Crenshaw and Pete Navarro tells the story of Dellschau and of the secrets the authors argue that Dellschau hid within his artwork. Pete Navarro spent 27 years studying Dellschau's drawings and writings. According to Navarro, the story of the Sonora Aero Club and their achievements had been cleverly hidden by Dellschau in his drawings using several codes and unconnected sentences hidden throughout the work. Thus, one would have to see ALL of the Dellschaus to understand the narrative.

Partial list of exhibitions[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Gershon 2014, p. 166.
  2. ^ Crenshaw & Navarro 2009.
  3. ^ a b Drake & Jach 2014, p. 35.
  4. ^ Congdon & Hallmark 2012, p. 493.
  5. ^ Wertkin 2004, p. 272.
  6. ^ Greenwood 1998.
  7. ^ Busby 2004, p. 28.
  8. ^ Danelek 2013, p. 46.
  9. ^ The Secrets of Dellschau: The Sonora Aero Club & The Airships of the 1800s
  10. ^ Raw Vision Magazine.
  11. ^ Brett et al. 2013.
  12. ^ Rosen 2013.
  13. ^ Reif 1998.
  14. ^ Smith 1998.

External links[edit]

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