Frank L. Engle (1916-2002) was an internationally known sculptor, designer, painter, glass artisan, ceramicist, and professor. Engle completed numerous commissioned works, the majority of which were in welded steel, lead, fiberglass and plaster, and was an avid advocate for the arts.
Frank Leroy Engle was born June 9, 1916, in Peoria County, Illinois, the third son of Walter Lee Engle, an itinerant farmer, and Nina Temple Engle, a seamstress. Although born in Illinois, he spent most of his youth living on farms on which his father sharecropped in Indiana. At age five, he was hit by a car and then lost a brother at age 18. These tragedies, combined with the hardships of the Great Depression, led Engle to find solace in using his hands and his imagination to escape from the trials of daily life.
A teacher at Anderson High School in Indiana recognized Engle's potential and encouraged him to pursue a career in art. After graduating from high school in 1935, he enrolled in the John Herron Art Institute (now part of Indiana University in Indianapolis), where he studied under renowned sculptor David Kresz Rubins. Engle won the prestigious Mary Milliken Scholarship in his senior year. Engle had hoped to use the scholarship funds to tour Europe to study the works of the great masters, but World War II prevented this. Instead, he and two other award winners, Loren Fisher, who had won the Prix de Rome competition, and Floyd Hopper, another Milliken recipient, chose to tour the East Coast, Canada, California, and Mexico. They set off on their 18,000-mile journey immediately after graduation in June 1940.
After returning to the United States in the fall of 1940, Engle headed to Los Angeles to begin graduate studies specifically in sculpture with an emphasis in ceramics at the University of California. As the United States entered World War II, he found work as a patternmaker for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, eventually becoming head of the Experimental Pattern Department. At war's end, with encouragement from connections he had made with other artists in Los Angeles, associations within the movie industry, and support from his new wife Nanene Queen (also an artist and a native of Indiana), he opened Engle Studios in Los Angeles. In the late 1940s, the Engles closed the factory in Los Angeles, and moved it to Newburgh, Indiana, in order to be closer to their families. Engle Studios produced decorative designs for home décor which were sold at leading department stores such as Macy's, Neiman Marcus, and Bergdorf Goodman. His works were featured in popular magazines including House Beautiful and Better Homes and Gardens. He also produced decorative ceramic works for the motion picture industry to be used as props and for hotels such as the Shamrock, the largest hotel in the United States at the time it was built. By 1949, executives at the Ford Motor Company had noticed the young artist's work and commissioned him to design their first emblem, the popular red, white, and blue crest with center chevron and three lions, introduced on the 1950 vehicles.
Engle taught at the University of Iowa and Evansville University in 1949 prior to selling the Newburgh factory when he began suffering from lead poisoning he contracted through his glazing chemicals. He joined the University of Alabama faculty in its newly created art department that same year as a professor of ceramics. By 1953, he and Nanene had divorced, after having two children, and in 1955, he married Alabama native and fellow artist Bethany Windham, with whom he would have a daughter. A pioneer in early Alabama Public Television, Engle hosted shows teaching his sculpture and ceramics techniques when educational shows were still a new concept. He won numerous awards, participated in single and group exhibitions, spent time as a research scholar in Europe, and served as a representative for the non-profit American Craft Council.
In 1964, Engle was commissioned to create more than 20 pieces of work for the interior of the newly constructed Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa. Among the works he produced were the Stations of the Cross, an altar rail, statues of the Blessed Virgin and St. Joseph, and two panels depicting the apostles. (His multi-colored glass mosaics were destroyed when the church was torn down and replaced in 2009.) In the late 1960s, Engle began teaching ceramics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) to help establish what would later become the UAB Art Department. In 1966, University of Alabama athletic director and football coach Paul "Bear" Bryant commissioned Engle to create a massive fountain in front of Paul Bryant Hall, a residence for university athletes. It was destroyed in 1988 after Bryant died during a period of transition in the Athletic Department. Paul Bryant Hall is now the Athletic Academic Center.
In 1980, Engle retired as Professor Emeritus of Art. He continued to work from his home and studio and was commissioned to reconstruct architectural features of the old state capitol building in Tuscaloosa and completed a sculpture of Adam and Eve entitled "Goodbye Paradise," which was commissioned for the 1993 Sculpture Garden II in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He also participated in the 1991 Alabama Biennial Sculpture Exhibition and often served as a visiting instructor at the Mississippi Art Colony in Utica. His work is included in many private, public, university, church, and corporate collections in the United States, Mexico, and Europe.
In 1994, Engle was presented with the Distinguished Career Award by the Society for the Fine Arts and the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alabama. A room in Woods Hall in the Department of Art at the University of Alabama was named in his honor. Engle died on February 20, 2002, in Tuscaloosa and his ashes were interred on the grounds of Windy Hill, his home in Tuscaloosa County. A bronze sculpture of a large dog's legs and feet, inscribed with the late artist's name and birth and death dates, was created by Alabama artist Nathan Goodson as a memorial and stands on the grounds of the estate.