Renowned Chilean sculptress, Lily Garafulic, dies at 97

Published On : Sat, Mar 17th, 2012

Winner of Chile’s National Prize for Art suffers heart attack at her home on March 15.

In an artistic career spanning over eight decades, Lily Garafulic encountered and influenced some of the greatest sculptors in modern art while creating scores of beautiful works across the globe through which her legacy lives on.

sculpture obit
Garafulic died of a heart attack on March 15 while in her home near Parque Forestal in Santiago.  Her friend and curator Ernesto Muñoz told La Tercera that her condition had deteriorated recently.

“She lived a long, happy life with many accomplishments and accolades. She had a steel mind, a heart of gold and turquoise eyes,” her niece, Gloria Garafulic-Grabois, told The Santiago Times from her residence in New York. “She was an internationally renowned sculptor and a formidable woman. I had the privilege of being her niece and friend.”

The daughter of two Croatians, Garafulic was born in Antofagasta on May 14, 1914, the youngest of nine children. At the age of 20, she took advantage of the free higher education system at the time and joined the School of Fine Arts at Universidad de Chile.

There she excelled at the medium of sculpture, studying under the prolific Chilean artist Lorenzo Domínguez, who heavily influenced her own style and approach. 

During the early years of her artistic career, she honed her technique using marble, stone, and brass and in 1944 she received the Guggenheim Fellowship in New York. This period culminated in a commission to create the 12 statues of prophets for the Basilica of Lourdes, making her one of the first female artists to make a monumental work in a public space.    

After Chilean poet and Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral died in 1957, Garafulic was commissioned to design a black marble stand for Mistral’s 1945 Nobel Prize, said her niece, who asked the sculptress why marble was chosen instead of her aunt’s favorite material, travertine marble.

“She said the she felt that the only material worthy of holding such an important prize for such an important woman was black, shiny marble. It was strong, durable and although the color was dark, its light would always shine,” Garafulic-Grabois said.

In 1960, she travelled for the first time to Easter island, a six-month trip which altered her feelings toward sculpture as an art form and provoked her to search out and use innovative new materials such as decayed wood, metal shavings, welds, and bolts. 

Between 1973 and 1977, Garafulic assumed the role of director at the Museum of Bellas Artes. She was the first woman to hold the position. There she established a restoration laboratory, bought work by the likes of Hernán Gazmuri, and made a catalogue of the entire museum collection.

The Museum of Bellas Artes responded to news of Garafulic’s death by announcing a possible retrospective exhibition in her honor.

“This exhibition will be a tribute to Lily Garafulic which will help widely distribute what was a strong and meaningful career,” Roberto Farriol, director of the museum, told local press.

Her career was littered with accolades of distinction, including Chile’s National Prize of Arts which she received in 1995, and her promotion to profesora emérita at the Universidad de Chile.  However, it is through the beauty of her work that her memory will live on. 

“She was one of the great masters of the modern sculpture,” Garafulic-Grabois said. “Her work is her legacy. I wish for her light to shine and inspire young artists and that her work is be always appreciated. She was a national treasure.”

By Struan Campbell Gray ([email protected])
Copyright 2012 – The Santiago Times

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Struan Campbell Gray