Sculpting a life – Karl Hufbauer

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Karl Hufbauer by one of his sculptures, “Grazing”, on a rare sunny November day.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and I have much to be grateful for.   I don’t exactly consider  Parkinson’s a social club, but I am grateful for the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people who happen to have Parkinson’s or know/care for someone with Parkinson’s.    After meeting Sally Hufbauer through a walking group, I met her husband, Karl Hufbauer.

Karl and I were both diagnosed with PD about a year ago and are both Stanford alumni, but there the resemblance ends!  For starters, he is an artist, while I am so unartistic, I have trouble drawing a straight line.   After a lifetime as an academic, Karl took up sculpting after retirement at 63.  You might think (as I immediately did) that his academic area must have been in art…or perhaps geology.

Nope.  Karl taught history of science at University of California- Irvine for nearly 40 years, pursuing in his research such diverse topics as the growth of chemistry in Enlightenment Germany.  history of stellar energy from 1903 when speculation about subatomic particles began, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome as a medical research topic since 1945.

He retired in 1999 and he and Sally moved to Seattle.   Yes, your guess as to why is correct – grandchildren.  He and Sally have three children and six grandchildren.

More complicated to explain is the move from academics to sculpture.  Sculpture was  “always out there”, Karl told me.  He was a rockhound as a kid and considered becoming a geology major, but his father dissuaded him, saying, “You’ll never be able to have a family because you’ll be traveling all the time for an oil company.”  Karl went to Europe the summer after his freshman year and was impressed with the stonework he saw, especially the stylized ancient Egyptian sculptures  he viewed at the Louvre.  The more figurative Greco-Roman sculpture never appealed to him, and his sculpture today is generally quite stylized.

Shortly after retirement, Sally urged him to pursue his lifelong interest in sculpture.  With a grin, Karl told me he thinks Sally wanted him to do something safer than collecting 100-pound rocks in the backcountry on his own.  Karl took a one-week class on sculpture in Autumn 2000, and ended up  creating two alabaster sculptures during that week – and getting tennis elbow!  “I took the class and I was hooked”.

So, does Parkinson’s impact his ability to create sculpture?    Not really.  He only works for 3-4 hours at a time now, due to fatigue and the strain on his back.  But then,  wouldn’t most people feel this way after wielding heavy equipment on a stone for several hours?  Especially if they were 76?  You might expect tremors to be an issue when carving stone.   But Karl’s tremors are under control with drugs, and he noted that he is using major arm and back muscles when using heavy tools, rather than just his hands.  He regrets he no longer goes out to the field to collect his own rocks.  He used to go out alone, maneuvering rocks as heavy as 250 pounds!

More challenging is a condition called Dupuytren’s contracture, in which Karl’s fingers bend toward his hands and can make gripping tools more difficult.  (This is a fascia issue and has no connection with PD.)  Interestingly, he was diagnosed with Dupuytren’s long before he decided to take up sculpture, so he has not viewed this as a barrier.  Karl said, “You make do with what you have”.

Check out Karl’s website and you will see he has more than “made do”.  He has produced stunning art.  What a wonderful  Thanksgiving present for me to get a tour of his works.

About Laura Kennedy Gould

Author of "The Magic Trick -- Life with Parkinson's
This entry was posted in Parkinson's People and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sculpting a life – Karl Hufbauer

  1. Pingback: The Parkinson’s Social Club | The Magic Trick – Life with Parkinson's

  2. Jean Davis says:

    Wonderful serendipity that you met Karl and Sally. I hope you and Paul can buy one of Karl’s sculptures for your new yard and garden.

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