Distinguished Artist Series


The Life and Art of Karl Baumann

by Lauri Hoffman, Curator


Karl Baumann was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1911. At that time, Germany was suffering the consequences of rapid industrialization in the burgeoning cities. Urban population had grown from nearly two million in 1871 to more than fourteen million by 1910. Within this population, two distinct groups had emerged: the working class and the upper middle class. The status quo was maintained by the bourgeoisie who had little concern for the well-being of the masses. Rules were imposed to benefit only this ruling class. Laborers were forced to operate long shifts in unsanitary environments and for little pay The grandiose apartments and palatial villas of the upper middle class stood in sharp contrast to the rundown, dark and oveicrowded homes of the majority of workers. Within the Baumann household, there existed both extremes. Augusta Baumann, Karl's mother, was raised in a frugal environment, whereas Willie Baumann, Karl's father, came from a background of wealth.

Willie Baumann was a trained engraver and embosser, yet as conditions worsened in Germany, he could not find enough work to support a family. Just before the outbreak of World War I, Willie Baumann immigrated to the United States and settled in New York, in search of a better life for his wife and son. Unfortunately, the war ended all communications and the Baumanns were forced to remain separated. Willie eventually moved to San Francisco and worked for Schmidt Lithograph.

During the war, Augusta Baumann worked at home making postcards and toy lead soldiers. From the process of pouring hot liquid lead into molds, Augusta contracted lead poisoning and died of tuberculosis in 1916. Karl Baumann spent the rest of his childhood under the guidance of his maternal grandparents. In his memoirs, Baumann wrote, "These two good people formed the basic foundation of interests and thinking for me in my early years."

From his grandfather, Karl developed interests in art and nature. At five years old, Baumann began drawing colored pencil sketches of soldiers in far away countries such as Turkey and Bulgaria. Outside, he would arrange these pictures on the ground and listen with fascination as his grandfather fabricated stories to accompany the scenes.

Self Portrait, 1938, watercolor, 15 x 12 inches

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This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 10/28/11

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