American, 19th-20th century.
Born 1830, Prussia, Germany; died 1923, Houston, Texas
Born in Prussia in 1830, Dellschau worked as a butcher before moving to the United States in 1950, living in Galveston, Texas, Sonora, California, and eventually settled in Houston, Texas. Just before retiring from his work as a salesman in a Houston saddle shop in 1900, Dellschau began work on a memoir recounting what he claimed to be his adventures in California, completing it in 1903. Working alone in a family member's attic, he began work on the first manuscipt of what would be a 12-volume series. Evoking a steam-era adventure aesthetic reminiscent of Jules Verne, this epic narrative follows his alleged adventures as a member of a secret society called the Sonora Aero Club, a group of maverick inventors engaged in designing and flying airships propelled by a mysterious, anti-gravity gas.
Most double-sided pages of Dellscahu's manuscripts contain an exquisitely painted airship bounded by patterned framing devices, accompanied by often illegible text and coded messages, and also by collated newspaper clippings providing news of flight technology. Upon flipping through each volume-or walking through an exhibition whichpresents pages out of context-one is repeatedly confronted with a nostalgic celebration of steam-era adventure and a scathing critique of the destructive use of contemporary flight technology during World War I.
While Dellschau deserves attention for his great talent as a visual artist, the consideration of individual pages apart from the entire work is problematic. His status as one of the preeminent Outsider Artists owes to his entire production, including his use of 19th century literary strategies such as the use of code, which continues to baffle scholars intent on proving the existence of the Dellschau's airships. Houston artist Pete Navarro spent nearly 30 years sleuthing this airship mystery, and has contributed much to our understanding of Dellschau without offering a conclusive claim. Perhaps the answer to this mystery is staring us in the face: the artist often penned the word "Humbug" on his pages. To us, this sounds like a curmudgeoun's epithet, but to the steam-era readers of Edgar Allen Poe's penny paper capers, this word simply meant "hoax."
- Jenifer P. Borum
2015, Mysterium Cosmographicum, Stephen Romano Gallery, Brooklyn
2012, All Things Round, American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore
2012, Collector of Skies, Andrew Edlin Gallery, New York
2010, The Museum of Everything, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin
2008, Flights of Imagination, Witte Museum, San Antonio
2004, The Secret Life of Charles Dellschau, San Antonio Museum, Menilo Museum
2002, Flight or Fancy? The Secret Life of Charles A. A. Dellschau, San Antonio Museum of Art, Focus Gallery
1998, Aeronautical Notebooks, Ricco/Maresca Gallery, New York
American Folk Art Museum, New York
Collection abcd, Halle Saint-Pierre, Paris
High Museum, Atlanta
John Michael Kohler Art Center, Sheboygan
The Menil Collection, Houston
Museum of Everything, London
Philadelphia Museum, Philadelphia
San Antonio Museum, San Antonio
The Witte Museum, San Antonio
McEvilley, Thomas, Roger Cardinal, et. al., Charles A. A. Dellschau, Marquand Books/D.A.P., New York, 2013.
The Museum of Everything, exhibition catalogue, Pinacoteca Giovanni e Marella Agnelli, Turin/Milan, 2010.
Crenshaw, Dennis, and P.G. Navarro, The Secrets of Dellschau, Anomalist Books, San Antonio, 2009.
Johnson, Ken, "A Spiritual Energy in Fanciful Realms," The New York Times, January 22, 1999.
Reif, Rita, "A Saddler Who Dreamt of Flying Machines," The New York Times, January 25, 1998.