Artists & Designers

Octavio Medellín (1907-1999)

The son of an Otomi Indian mine worker, Octavio Medellín was born in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Throughout his boyhood, Mexico was suffering from the upheavals of revolution, and his family moved on several occasions. At one point his father was imprisoned by the general of the local revolutionary force but was eventually released when fighting waned. At age eleven, Medellín was able to enter school for the first time, and he showed a definite interest in art. In 1920 the boy and his family came to live in San Antonio with resident visas. Medellín's father, satisfied that his family was at last safe from the turmoil in his native land, returned to Mexico, where he died tragically, a victim of the revolution. Young Medellín helped his family survive by working odd jobs.

By 1922 he had enrolled at the San Antonio Art Institute, studying painting with Jose Arpa and life drawing with Xavier Gonzales and, for the next several years, attending night classes there. By 1928 he was in Chicago, working as a busboy to pay for evening classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1929 Medellín went to Mexico, where he met the leading artists of the period. He traveled to many rural areas, studying native art forms. He later felt that this was a truly formative period of his life, because he became aware of the power and expression of his artistic heritage. He especially singled out as affecting him greatly the art of the Indians of Yucatan, because he saw this art intertwined with their daily lives. In 1930 Medellín met Carlos Merida, the painter, and formed a lifelong friendship.

Returning to San Antonio the following year, Medellin associated himself with a group of San Antonio artists and founded La Villita Art Gallery. He taught sculpture there and at the Witte Museum for several years during the depression. He became an assured sculptor in the direct-carving technique, and his works were notable for their strength and expressiveness. In 1938, after another formative trip to Yucatan to research Maya-Toltec art, Medellín and his family moved to Denton, where he became sculptor-in-residence at North Texas State Teachers College. He exhibited his work at the Texas Centennial and represented Texas at the New York World's Fair in 1939. In 1942 he had a one-man show at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and was accorded the singular honor of having seven of his works represented in the Americans exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art. That same year he became a U.S. citizen and performed valuable war work at the North American aviation plant in Grand Prairie, Texas. In 1945 he began teaching sculpture at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, an association that lasted twenty-one years; concurrently, he taught at Sourhern Methodist University. Throughout this period he received many major art commissions, including a great many large architectural projects for churches and corporations. In 1966 the artist founded the Medellín School of Sculpture, which he directed until his death in 1999.

Adapted from

Rick Stewart, Lone Star Regionalism: The Dallas Nine and Their Circle (Dallas Museum of Arts: Dallas, TX, 1985), 181-2.

Related Multimedia

Oral History interview with Darin Marshall

Web Resources

  • Octavio Medellin: Maya Toltec Temples and Carvings, 1938
    Check out this digital exhibition created by the Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University and posted on Google Arts & Culture.
  • Octavio Medellín Art Work and Papers
    Learn about the Octavio Medellin Art Work and Papers digital collection (part of the Octavio Medellín Art Work and Papers physical collection, held by SMU's Bywaters Special Collections at the Hamon Arts Library at Southern Methodist University).
  • A Guide to the Collection
    Learn about the scope of the Octavio Medellín collection at Southern Methodist University (organized by Texas Archival Resources Online).
  • Dallas Nine
    Read more about this group on the Handbook of Texas Online (published by the Texas State Historical Association).