Internationally known artist Alexandra Alaupovic, a longtime Oklahoma City resident whose work is included in the Oklahoma State Art Collection, died Wednesday. She was 91.
She was born Dec. 21, 1921, in Podravska Slatina, Croatia, growing up in a small town and an artistic family. Her mother, Jelka, was an accomplished watercolorist who taught art at the local grammar school. Her father, Josip, was an amateur painter and musician as well as an attorney and later a judge. His brother, Antun, studied painting at a German art academy.
She created her first sculpture, a clay bust of a policeman, at the age of 5.
When Alaupovic was 6, her father told her he wished she would become an attorney but said she could be an artist if she wanted. He told her, “Whatever you’re going to do, do the best,” she recalled in a 2004 interview with The Oklahoman at her rural Oklahoma City home.
After she graduated from high school in 1940, Alaupovic started business school in Zagreb in what was then Yugoslavia. She spent a year in business classes and then worked as a secretary for three years. She said she needed the money and had reservations about going to art school with the Nazis in power.
“I didn’t want to be doing Hitler’s portrait,” she said in 2004.
She entered the Academy of Visual Arts in Zagreb in 1944. One of her first projects was a bust of a Serbian orphan whose family had been killed by Croatian Nazis, a sculpture she kept and eventually brought with her to Oklahoma.
After World War II, Yugoslavia fell under Communist rule, as did Czechoslovakia, where she lived for a time with her husband Petar, whom she wed in 1947. When they returned to Zagreb – where their only child, daughter Betsy, was born in 1949 – the sculptor discovered some of her art professors had been replaced with party members.
In 1952, she created “Struggle I,” a bronze sculpture of an individual being pulled by two others representing art and family. The sculpture expressed her struggle to balance raising a young daughter, working as an artist and getting up at 4 a.m. to wait in lines for food.
In addition to food shortages, Alaupovic faced limits on her artistic style and expression. “Struggle I” wasn’t accepted for juried shows in Yugoslavia because it had too much space when monolithic sculptures were the norm. Realism was the accepted style, she said, and modernism was not taught.
“Everything is free (in the United States), and you could express yourself the way you wanted to in this country, and you could learn everything you wanted to over here,” she said in the 2004 interview. “This was a democracy, and over there, it was just the other way around.”
In the late 1950s, Alaupovic came to the United States with her husband, a research scientist, when he got a job at the University of Illinois. She enrolled as a graduate student in design and commercial art and began learning about modernism, abstract art and new sculpting techniques.
“She was freed to pursue her artistic interests without really any constraints or censorship as the kind of those in the immediate years after the Second World War faced in a communist regime,” Petar Alaupovic said in the 2004 interview. “Neither one of us would have really been able to utilize our gifts to their potential if we had not been invited to this country and allowed to stay.”
In 1960, the couple moved so Petar could take a job with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, where he celebrated his 50th anniversary in early 2011.
Alexandra Alaupovic enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, where she learned welding, won the 1964 Oscar Jacobson Award for her sculpture “Moon Girl” and earned her master of fine arts degree. She started her teaching career at OU and then spent several years as an art professor at Oklahoma City University.
In 1964, she and her husband became U.S. citizens in a ceremony in downtown Oklahoma City.
“She’s a frontier person, so it’s appropriate she ended up in Oklahoma. … She came along a little bit later, but she definitely had that same enthusiasm for exploring new territories,” Alaupovic’s daughter, Betsy Alaupovic Hyde, told The Oklahoman in 2004.
Alaupovic’s sense of adventure and willingness to experiment are evident in her sculptures, which range from strikingly realistic busts to enigmatic abstract forms.
“I always wanted to learn something new,” Alaupovic said.
She expressed herself in an array of media, including plaster, clay, aluminum, steel and marble, although she became best known for her bronzes.
“They were my expression of my feelings at certain times,” she said, reflecting on her career in the 2004 interview. “Whenever I changed my life, I changed also my style.”
She exhibited on the local, state, national and international level and was included in “Since Statehood: 12 Oklahoma Artists,” La Mandragore International Galerie d’Art, Paris, France and the Oklahoma City Arts Festival. In 1987, she was honored with a retrospective at the Oklahoma Art Center in Oklahoma City.
Her work is contained in many public and private collections in the United States, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Croatia, France, Japan and Argentina.
Locally, she is known for her Bart Conner sculpture at Sam Viersen Gymnastics Center at OU, Amelia Earhart bust at Science Museum Oklahoma, Henry Overholser bust at Overholser Mansion, “The Tree of Life” at Mercy Medical Center and her torch sculpture at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.
Her work is included in the Oklahoma State Art Collection at the state Capitol and is part of the permanent collections at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Norick Art Center, Casady School, OU Health Sciences Center, Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Her biography is included in Contemporary American Women Sculptors, North American Women Artists of the 20th Century, and Who’s Who in America.
In addition to her artistic career, Alaupovic (known to friends as Sandra) enjoyed gourmet cooking, entertaining, gardening, attending art gallery and museum events, operas, traveling, and spending time with her family and friends.
She is survived by her husband of 65 years; her daughter Betsy Alaupovic Hyde of Oklahoma City; and two grandsons, Homer Clark Hyde of Chicago and Robert Alexander Hyde and his wife, Mary of Cleveland, Ohio.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that contributions be made in her memory to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, 415 Couch Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73102.
Services, under the direction of Hahn-Cook/Street & Draper Funeral Directors, are private.