From religious paintings to drawings of civil rights leaders, Robert Schiffhauer has told stories through artwork that is hanging on walls across Bryan-College Station and beyond.
Schiffhauer, 84, was raised in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, a town near Scranton. Schiffhauer first grew fond of art when he was in high school after a friend who was going to New York’s Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art taught him how to paint and draw. Schiffhauer applied for the same school in the 1950s and was excited to be one of the few students from outside of New York to be accepted.
“That was my real, true beginning in art,” Schiffhauer said. He went on to graduate from Yale.
After concluding his academic career, Schiffhauer became interested in becoming an educator and he applied to schools across the country, eventually landing at the University of Houston.
In 1969, Schiffhauer made Aggieland home. During his more than 40 years at Texas A&M University, Schiffhauer taught graphic design, landscape architecture, drawing, painting and sculpting.
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Sharing his love of art through his courses was always something special, he said.
“My aim to accomplish things has always been through teaching,” he said.
After retiring from A&M about six years ago, Schiffhauer donated 55 paintings and drawings to the university. Many of the works portray civil rights leaders, along with musicians and other influential figures.
Since 2018, pieces depicting abolitionists, journalists and musicians have lined the walls between two sets of elevators on the third floor of Evans Library. Schiffhauer said a couple of his favorites that are on display include portraits of jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.
There is also a portrait of Matthew Gaines, who was a former enslaved person and Washington County’s first Black state senator. Gaines was instrumental in passing Senate Bill 276, which helped to create the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas under the Land Grant College Act of 1862, also known as the Morrill Act. Work is underway to erect a statue of Gaines on campus.
Schiffhauer said that he sees Gaines as “the true founder of Texas A&M,” and a person who students would be interested in seeing depicted in the permanent Evans Library exhibition.
Patrick Zinn, director of marketing for the A&M library system, said he is pleased that Evans Library could be a home for the collection. Zinn said the library is a good fit for the work since it is a place that all types of students come through, rather than having the art in one particular college’s building.
“We’re happy to do it,” he said. “We’re happy to keep this up. It really continues our mission.”
Schiffhauer has also donated portraits of Europeans who publicly opposed anti-Semitism and genocide during the 20th century to Germany’s Academy for International Education. The institution is a study abroad venue for the A&M College of Architecture.
Several other places around town are home for Schiffhauer’s work.
When the Brazos Valley African American Museum in Bryan opened its doors in 2006, some of Schiffhauer’s work was among the location’s first art installations, including a painting of Martin Luther King Jr.
Curator Wayne Sadberry said that Schiffhauer recently donated several additional drawings to the museum that he said he is working to find a good space for. The portraits include jazz musician Ornette Coleman and sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, who was the first Black American to earn a doctorate from Harvard and was a founding member of the NAACP.
“He’s really a profound person,” Sadberry said of Schiffhauer.
At St. Thomas Episcopal Church in College Station there are several pieces depicting biblical scenes hanging in offices, according to parish administrator Kammy Jaques. Pictures include Adam and Eve and Jesus Christ. Schiffhauer said the pieces are wood cut prints with some paint. He made them by carving into wood, rolling ink on that wood and then pressing the blocks onto the canvas.
“We are very thankful,” Jaques said. “We’ve got several different artists in our parish community and he has just been very generous in sharing his gifts with us.”