Dorothy Austin ( American, 1911 - 2011 )

c. 1933
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General Description

Between 1931 and 1943, Dorothy Austin created artwork that focused on the human body, specifically the head and torso. Although she worked in various media, wood was her primary material. Highlighting the grain of the wood allowed Austin to accentuate the physical form of a sculpture. Her compositions expressed a sense of strength and power.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this sculpture, especially given the near-perfect symmetry of the tree-rings on its surface, is the fact that it was made from multiple pieces of wood. According to Austin, “(finding wood) was hard at that time. I couldn’t find a piece that was solid. You used what you could find, did what you could do.” The separate pieces were glued together by the artist, as evidenced by the line running down the right cheek and chin of the sculpted head. Austin’s ability to “make do” with limited materials reveals her versatility as a sculptor and remains as inspiring today as it was during the Depression of the 1930s.

Noggin, sculpted in white pine, resembles the giant heads made by the Olmec, an ancient Mesoamerican culture. The solidity of the head suggests that it will last a long time. Austin created deep incisions, which emphasize the movement of the grain and suggest the appearance of hair. "With wood you have to follow the grain to preserve the strength of the wood. You follow it one way, and then it will shift and go another way."

Noggin received an award in 1933 from the Allied Arts Show in Dallas and became part of the Museum's permanent collection. This same year it was chosen to represent Dallas in the Museum of Modern Art's landmark exhibition "Paintings and Sculpture from 16 American Cities."

Drawn from

  • "Dorothy Austin, Noggin," Texas Art, Resources/Teaching Materials, Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.

  • Jane D. Albritton, "Dorothy Austin, Sculpture of the 30s and 40s," exhibition brochure, Valley House Gallery, Inc. Dallas, 1999.

  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, Acquisition proposal (1933.22), March 2001.

  • Alexandra Wellington, DMA research essay (1933.22), June 2011.

  • Patricia D. Hendricks and Becky Duval Reese, A Century of Sculpture in Texas, 1889-1989 (Austin, TX: Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery, 1989), 47-48.

  • Rick Stewart, Lone Star Regionalism: The Dallas Nine and their Circle, 1928-1945. Austin, TX: Texas Monthly Press, 1985.

Fun Facts

  • "[Dorothy Austin's] hobbies are Chinese poetry and the serving of chicken piloff suppers in her studio." [italics in original] (Esse F. O'Brien, Art and Artists of Texas (Dallas, 1935), 239.)