Augusta Denk Oelschig was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1918. As a young girl, her talent was encouraged by local art teachers, Linda Trogden, Lila Cabaniss and Emma Cheves Wilkins. After earning a certificate in liberal arts from Armstrong Junior College in Savannah in 1937, Oelschig transferred to the University of Georgia where Lamar Dodd had just established the school of art. She graduated with a BFA in 1939 and returned to Savannah.
In Savannah, Oelschig continued her art education with Henry Lee McFee. She also befriended Alexander Brook, a visiting New York artist, and though she never took formal lessons with him, the two artists influenced one another. Oelschig held her first solo exhibition at the Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1941, and her former teacher, Lamar Dodd, wrote the introduction to the exhibition catalogue.
During World War II, Oelschig was offered a teaching position at Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now known as Auburn University). She taught drawing and painting in Alabama until 1943 and was active in the Southern States Art League, the Alabama Art Association, and the Southeastern Artists Association. After returning to the Savannah area in 1947, she married and the couple embarked on an extended honeymoon in Mexico where she studied with the Mexican muralists. She was particularly influenced by José Clemente Orzoco who taught that art should be used to expose social injustice whenever possible.
In 1948, Oelschig and her husband moved to New York City. Although Abstract Expressionism was the newest, most popular art movement at the time, Oelschig maintained her representational style. She attended classes at the New School for Social Research and exhibited at the Feragil and ACA Galleries. Oelschig’s brightly colored and expressive canvases often dealt with Southern society and the injustice of race relations, in particular. Dodd once commented that she possessed “the tools to produce very personal and regional scenes of Social consequence.”
Unfortunately, her marriage dissolved in 1962 and she returned home to Savannah where she resumed teaching privately and experimented with more modern abstraction under the guidance of Bill Hendrix and William Scharf. She continued to have her paintings displayed throughout the South and she completed her last major work between 1972 and 1975. It was a mural commissioned in celebration of the Bicentennial and was originally located in the lobby of the Federal Savings and Loan Bank building. It has since been moved to the Savannah Area Chamber of Commerce office. Augusta Denk Oelschig died in the summer of 2000, just before the opening of a retrospective exhibition honoring her life’s work at the Telfair Museum of Art.