A 22-foot abstract steel sculpture that once graced Congress Avenue is now installed in Pease Park, part of an agreement between the Contemporary Austin, the city and the Pease Park Conservancy.
David Deming’s “Mystic Raven” will be celebrated Dec. 16 at a free public event. Deming will be in attendance.
In many ways, the sculpture’s journey parallels the trajectory of Austin’s growth and its cultural development.
“Mystic Raven” was originally commissioned in 1983 for the plaza outside an office building on Congress Avenue and Ninth Street and was considered the first contemporary monumental public sculpture in downtown Austin. Originally, it was a deep rust color with the shapes on top in shades of grey.
Suggesting a combination of a human figure, a machine and “the spirit of a bird,” as the artist says, the abstract form suggests a bird in the corvid family — birds common in large cities around the world such as the crow, the ravens and, Austin’s favorite urban avian, the grackle.
The sculpture was also, for Deming, a symbol of the robust influx of new residents to Austin that began in the 1980s and continues today.
However when the Congress Avenue office building underwent major renovations in the early 1990s, the property owners no longer wanted the sculpture. Eventually, they transferred ownership of “Mystic Raven” to the museum. For years it was exhibited on the lower grounds of Laguna Gloria until in 2013, the sculpture was deinstalled for conservation reasons.
That same year the Contemporary Austin redirected its energies establishing the Betty and Edward Sculpture Park at Laguna Gloria. The museum also launched its Museum Without Walls program that includes placing individual outdoor sculptures from its collection on long-term loan. The program has seen loans to the Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum and the Elisabet Ney Museum, among others.
“Mystic Raven” was offered to Pease Park – itself newly energized with a new master plan that includes public art. Formally, the sculpture is on long term loan to city’s Art in Public Places (Pease Park is city of Austin property.)
After consultation with the artist, “Mystic Raven” was restored and repainted a matte black. It is now sited on a visually prominent corner of the park near the intersection of West 29th Street and Lamar Boulevard.
Deming taught at the University of Texas Austin from 1972 to 1996, serving as the chair of the Art Department and later Dean of of the College of Fine Arts from 1996-1998. He left UT to serve as president of the Cleveland Institute of Art (his alma mater). He retired in 2010 and resides in Ohio.