One UT Alumnus’ Mission to Own a Genuine Piece of Campus History

The University of Texas campus is composed of talismans, physical symbols scattered across the Forty Acres that mean different things to those who gaze upon them. For former football players, that might be the Freddie Steinmark plaque that each of them once touched on their way out of the tunnel. For history buffs and the architecturally minded, it’s perhaps the frieze-adorned tip-tops of building facades that transport them back to the halcyon days. And for some business students, it’s a 15-foot-6-inch-tall bronze statue featuring a man, woman, and child, all barefoot and clad in Classical garb, that towers over every visitor to the McCombs School of Business.

The statue was designed by Charles Umlauf, who taught art at UT for 40 years beginning in 1941. He had become a famous sculptor by the 1960s when it became apparent there was a glaring hole in UT’s public artworks collection: a piece from one of its own professors. In 1962, what is now the McCombs School was graced with his enormous statue, imbued with meaning for at least one alumnus.

As an undergrad, Danny Droubi, BBA ’04, Life Member, walked by the “Family” sculpture thousands of times, marveling at the message engraved on the plaque that adorns it: “The family is the foundation upon which the world of business is built, and it is a vital force in the local, state, and national economy.” Droubi, who has been a trader in the oil and gas industry since he graduated, now gets to look at this symbol that has humbled and inspired him since his time on campus every single day.

In April, he negotiated with a gallery in Austin to purchase a casting of the Umlauf work. Helped by a friend in Austin, Droubi stuffed a 5-foot-tall, 200-pound statue into his Toyota Land Cruiser, buried it beneath pillows, and set off for his home in Houston.

To Droubi, who didn’t have a lot of money growing up and worked throughout college, the statue contains profound meaning. It’s a reminder of his time at school, a symbol of the fortune his education has afforded him, and a reminder that money can’t be your sole virtue in life.

“I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I’ve achieved a financial status that I feel blessed for,” he says, “but I’m not a flashy person, not materialistic. My wife was like, ‘Is there anything you’ve ever wanted that you could never get?’”

It was a question that sent them down a winding path to bring an iconic piece of the Forty Acres back into Droubi’s daily view.

Before he was aware of the cast model, Droubi’s wife Lauren called the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and asked if it would be possible to make a replica of the statue for her husband’s desk. The museum informed her that it wasn’t possible, but to contact the Russell Collection, an art gallery in downtown Austin, as they represent the Umlauf estate. By sheer luck, they had a (much larger) version of the statue.

Droubi then spent two years trying to wrangle the statue from the Russell Collection, which had been commissioned to sell the Umlauf sculpture on behalf of a man in Coffeyville, Kansas. Previously, it sat in the lobby of a savings and loan in Houston, until the savings and loan crisis rendered the bank extinct. Droubi had issues with the price—which he won’t discuss on record, but tells me, “it’s enough to get insured”—and the provenance of the piece.

Were there 10 others just like it scattered around the country? Twenty? He thought about calling the Umlauf Sculpture Garden, but a friend told him not to bother.

On March 25, Droubi trusted his first instinct and sent an email. Katie Robinson Edwards, a curator there, called him back on a Sunday. “He was willing to pay a lot of money because he loved it so much,” Edwards says. “He’s not a doofus—he’s really smart about money. He also didn’t want a whole bunch of these floating around. I did my research.”

Edwards told Droubi she couldn’t weigh in on how much he should pay but could comment on an appraisal. She also told him that according to their records, the statue he wanted to purchase was a scale model for the one front of McCombs, which UT commissioned from the artist, and that there were only three known castings of that scale model. One was at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and another was at Southwestern Life Insurance in Dallas. The third was available to Droubi, if he wanted, to adorn his garden or greet him inside every morning.

He ruminated on it a while. After all, he wasn’t an art collector, and had no plans for becoming one, so the Umlauf wouldn’t be an investment piece. But his wife told him, “You are obsessed with this thing. You will have this albatross of regret.”

“She was right,” Droubi says,

He pulled the trigger and started clearing out space in his home office. Droubi figured he wanted the patina to stay nice and fresh, safe from the elements, and besides, he could spend 10 or 15 minutes every day staring at it, grounding himself in its meaning, or simply up at it while he’s on a call, and feel connected to the place that made him who he is today. “I could have bought a lot of other stuff,” he says. “But the message is so important to me. It needed to be back in the UT family.”

Then, a week before he went to collect his very first piece of artwork, Droubi’s father died.

“We centered life around our family,” he says. “There was some healing for me to know that [the statue] represented the way he lived his life.”

He now looks at it and thinks of multiple generations of the Droubi family as he sits in front of it. “I envision my father holding me like a baby,” he says, “and I imagine my son.”

Edwards commends Droubi’s passion and says the fact that he will never sell the piece.Droubi would rather keep it in the family or eventually donate it to a church or a park so that future generations can enjoy the work of art that has provided him guidance and joy.

“He’s a dream,” Edwards says. “He had this miraculous connection to Umlauf seeing that piece. It’s the most wonderful, beautiful thing.”


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