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Peter Mansbendel

Swiss Woodcarver in Texas



How did a Swiss woodcarver end up in Austin, Texas? After meeting Ms. Clotilde Shipe at a tea in his studio in New York, Peter Mansbendel moved to Austin in 1911 to marry Ms. Shipe, the daughter of the prominent real estate developer of the Hyde Park neighborhood in Austin.

carving over door Peter Mansbendel was born in Basel, Switzerland on August 12, 1883. He learned the art of woodcarving as an apprentice in Switzerland, and later studied in Paris and London. He moved to Boston in 1907 and later lived in New York.

Mansbendel continued to create masterful carvings after settling in Austin. In the Main Building at UT Austin, Mansbendel created the elaborate overdoor carving for the Wrenn Library on the fourth floor and the two depictions of Old Main located in the reading rooms of the Life Science Library.

Mansbendel also created eleven of the portraits of past presidents that adorn the lobby of the Texas Union Building at UT Austin. The portraits of Benedict and Battle were actually carved from life. The Swiss carver recalled that “Dr. Battle didn't help very much, for he usually fell asleep when he posed.”

When he was asked his occupation Mansbendel usually responded “I'm a chiseler”. He “chiseled” many fireplace mantels for prominent homes in Austin as well as the massive double doors for the Spanish Governor's Palace, and the San Jose Mission in San Antonio. He built his Swiss Chalet style home in Hyde Park and decorated the interior with fanciful creations. Each post of the interior stairway is mounted with whimsical figures including a snail, a frog, and an owl peering down from the top of the stairs. He recreated the depths of the sea in the bathroom of his home by carving fish, lobsters, octopi, and crabs swimming among seaweed on wooden panels.

door frame carving
oldmain carving in Library Peter Mansbendel died of cancer on July 20, 1940, but his tremendous talent is displayed in his carvings that survive at UT Austin.


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12 May 1999
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