In the fall of 1899, Charles A.A. Dellschau (1830–1923), a retired butcher from Houston, embarked on a project that would occupy him for more than twenty years. What began as an illustrated manuscript recounting his experiences in the California Gold Rush became an obsessive project resulting in twelve large, hand-bound books with more than 2,500 drawings related to airships and the development of flight. Dellschau’s designs resemble traditional hot air balloons augmented with fantastic visual details, collage and text. The hand-drawn “Aeros” were interspersed with collaged pages called “Press Blooms,” featuring thousands of newspaper clippings related to the political events and technological advances of the period.
After the artist’s death in 1923, the books were stored in the attic of the family home in Houston. In the aftermath of a fire in the 1960s, they were dumped on the sidewalk and salvaged by a junk dealer, and later owned, studied and preserved by a local artist who for twenty years was preoccupied with their mysteries. Eight books made their way into the collections of the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Witte Museum and the Menil Collection; the remainder were sold to a private collector, and made their way into the art world. Dellschau’s works have since been collected by numerous other museums including the American Folk Art Museum, the High Museum, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Museum of Everything in London, and ABCD Foundation Paris all have major holdings of this artists works.. Like the eccentric outpourings of Adolf Wölfli, Henry Darger and Achilles Rizzoli, these private works were not created for the art world, but to satisfy a driving internal creative force. Dreamer, optimist and visionary, Charles Dellschau is one of the earliest documented self taught visionaryartists known in America.
Excerpted from "Investigating The Secrets of Charles A.A. Dellschau" by the late Thomas McEvilley, a forthcoming essay for the exhibition catalog of "Charles Dellschau: On Wather Land and Clouds":
".... There remains the question why Dellschau began making his elaborate painted and calligraphed works. Perhaps it was just a creative impulse which is part of the human soul. In that case Dellschau was not trying to convince anybody of anything, simply titillating his soul in his old age, perhaps as a part of a preparation for passing on. Viewed in this way the work seems to foretell an ascent to heaven for which the artist’s soul has opened itself, partly through the activity of making his art. In the universe Dellschau has created in watercolor, the sky is dotted by decorative floating airships. It is as if the round aeros were ascending to heaven, or preparing to. It could be Dellschau’s vision of the afterlife, or of his anticipated transition to it. The same seems true of Yves Klein’s fantasy of levitation.
Dellschau’s most basic composition has a rounded aero in the middle of the usually square pictorial surface, surrounded on all four sides by an elaborate decorative border. These borders usually describe squares or rectangles in which the angelic visions of aeros are held in place in the sky. The roundness of the aero held in place by the surrounding square suggests the angelic nature. The surrounding square is the material world while the aero is lighter than air and rises into the sky like an angel floating or a soul ascending to heaven after death. The square equals the earth--the compass-like measurement of flat space to be divided into square plots for earthly habitation. The rounded nature of the aeros differentiates them from materiality and elevates them to a more spiritual and metaphysical function as in Plato’s metaphysical levels. Above the level of the moon, in the Platonic-Aristotelian view, every entity is circular or spherical. Sometimes the aeros show a division like that of the cosmos--square below, like a building on the earth, rounded above, in the balloon section where the gas produced by the lifting fluid carries it toward heaven. In some cases there are wheels on the bottom, suggesting a desire to move while still in bondage to the earth; on the top, offsetting the theme of earthiness suggested by the wheels, is the gas-filled balloon, which is soft and cloud like. The bottom will meet the earth with the mechanical mediation of wheels; the upper part rises to meet heaven, but with a soft and cloud like presence. Aeros of this type are devices to mediate between earth and heaven, or above and below.
They are, on this interpretation, transformative devices whereby the square materiality of earth is transformed, in the hidden inner space atop the aero, to the floating angelic cloud like softness of heaven. ..."
Thomas McEvilley 2012.
- download 20 page PDF catalog from ARTnow art fair 2008 . High resolution 152 MB.