German Pioneer Monument

Hugo Villa’s masterful artistry and creativity are shown in the statue portion of the German Pioneer Monument. Courtesy of photographer Kathy Gregory-Fiala

New Braunfels was honored. It was the chosen community for the German Pioneer Monument. Landa Park was the chosen placement site. Now everyone was eager to learn who the architect and sculptor of the project would be. Initially the Monument Association announced the architect. Selected was Leo M.J.Dielmann. 

Born in San Antonio August 14, 1881, Leo M.J.Dielmann was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Dielmann.  His father was an early leader in the construction and building supply business in San Antonio and a leader in the building of a better San Antonio.

Reared in San Antonio and a graduate from St.Mary’s College in 1898, Dielmann joined  his father in  the construction business and received practical experience. He then went to Europe to study architecture and architectural engineering. Completing his architectural  education, he returned to San Antonio and practiced architecture and managed construction, becoming president of Dielmann Construction Company. After several years he devoted all his professional time to architecture. Dielmann designed more than 100 churches and cathedrals across the state during his long career. The record of his career, his documents and drawings, were at the Daughters of the Republic of Texas (DRT) Library at the Alamo in San Antonio and remain in safekeeping at the DRT  Library in San Antonio even though the library is no longer at the Alamo.

In 1909, Mayor Callaghan appointed Dielmann City Building Inspector, an office he held for three years. During 1913 and 1914, he served as Alderman-at-Large for Mayor Clinton G. Brown. The Brown administraton was noted for significant advances in public improvements, much of which was attributed to Dielmann’s influence.

It was acknowledged  that by 1938 there were few citizens who had contributed more in general advancement of their community or who had demonstrated a more unselfish and public-spirited attitude   toward  the city of San Antonio than Leo M.J. Dielmann. He was a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus and a member of the San Antonio Lodge of Elks No.216, St Joseph’s Society, the Beethoven and Liederkranz Clubs, the Alamo Country Club in  addition to numerous other social and civic organizations. He served as president of the State Federation of Catholic Societies and was secretary of the Texas Federation of Singing Societies. He also contributed his services to the Boy Scouts of San Antonio. As impressively, Dielmann was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie Library.

As to his personal life, in 1911 Dielmann married Ella Marie Wagner, also of San Antonio. The couple, made their home with their eventual family of three children on Guenther Street in the King William area of San Antonio.

 Everyone was further  pleased when the renowned Hugo Villa of Mount Rushmore fame agreed to be the sculptor for the memorial. It was most fortunate that both the project’s architect and sculptor lived in nearby San Antonio.

The remarkable story of Hugo Villa, considered both a sculptor and a philosopher in stone, began with his birth on July 20, 1885, in Roppolo, Italy. He was the oldest child and his father, a physician, expected him to follow in the medical profession. Hugo preferred the violin and studied music. He also wished to create in other ways and entered the Beaux Arts School of Torino to study sculpting. He won a scholarship that awarded him two years of study in the Beaux Arts School of Rome. Hugo then joined his former teacher from Torino and they traveled throughout Europe creating portraits. They portrayed the royal families of England, Holland and Russia along with royalty of many other countries.

In 1913, Hugo received a contract to build all the statuary in a mission cathedral in Mexico City, bringing him to North America. He became a professor in the Beaux Arts School of Mexico and was later offered the position of director of the Mexican National Museum.

In 1918, he went to New York City to become the assistant of Gutzon Borglum who undertook the job of portraying a scene of Confederate Army leaders on the side of a solid granite cliff that became known as  the Stone Mountain Memorial in Georgia.

The state historian of South Dakota conceived a similar project in the Black Hills that portrayed the figures of Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt. Borglum received the commission to proceed with the design. Hugo Villa was his first assistant and in full charge of the work, both in the modeling  studio and on  location. In his address at the unveiling of the completed Mount Rushmore project, Borglum said, “Hugo Villa, my assistant for 14 years, can paint and model anything.” The work exists today as the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in Keystone, South Dakota.

In 1932, Hugo Villa moved to San Antonio. His artistry soon provided the figure work in the newly erected buildings on the Texas A&M campus. To quote W.O.Sanders,Jr. from his book, Hugo Villa, Sculptor, Mr. Villa loves his work and puts into each and every detail that which can only be obtained when there is passion for perfection upon the part of the master. He plies his genuis as would a Michelangelo or a Raphael, never tiring, never complaining of the physical sacrifice, only quietly and soulfully working on and on until the goal is reached — each bit a masterpiece.”

Hugo Villa’s sculpture of the  German Pioneer family was another masterpiece. Villa sculpted the father, mother  and son that are atop the 8-foot, 4-inch granite pedestal. The five-sided, star-shaped pedestal contains large bronze plaques that tell the German pioneer story in Texas.  Villa’s creation conveys the story in stone. The father—his son  standing to his left and his wife seated in front of him, to his son’s right—with outstretched right arm points out the valley of the Comal, their new home. The father leads the way. The mother has a book, presumably a Bible, in her lap that she holds with her right hand.  This addresses the importance of their faith and of learning. She is the sustainer. Each are touching, demonstrating a closeness of family. The mother’s left arm is around the boy’s lower back and rests on his left upper thigh. His left hand lies gently on her wrist and the fingertips of his right hand are  lightly touching her lap. The father’s left hand  is on his wife’s left shoulder. The parents’ hope is that their son, representing the next generation, is inspired to carry on and continue. A cactus is growing on the sculpted ground to the family’s right, symbolizing new challenges. The father’s hat lies on the other side signifying “they are home.”

The  bronze statue was cast by E. Gargani and Sons Foundry in New York. Other contributors to the project were Anton Stasswender of Austin, Texas and the Southwell Art Bronze Company of San Antonio, Texas. Stasswender, born in  Germany, was a contractor whose shop furnished the five-sided granite pedestal for the statue created by Hugo Villa. Each of the sides contains a tall bronze plaque that tells a different portion of the German pioneer story. The Southwell Art  Bronze Company created the impressive bronze plaques.

The groundbreaking for the monument took place in Landa Park at a German Day Fete Oct. 16, 1936. We’ll learn  more about that celebration in the next column.

This column is based on the book New Braunfels’ Historic Landa Park, It’s Springs and Its People by Rosemarie Leissner Gregory and Arlene Krueger Seales.  For more information visit www.friendsforlandapark.org and Facebook.  You may call Jo Heideman @ 830-625-3186 to obtain a book.

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