Frömel, Gerda (1931–75), sculptor, was born 5 November 1931 at Schönberg, Czechoslovakia, eldest of four daughters of German parents. The family moved to Vienna in 1945 and later to Germany, where Frömel studied art in Stuttgart (where she received a scholarship in 1949), Darmstadt, and Munich between 1948 and 1952. In 1953 she came to Ireland, where she lived in Dublin for one year. On returning to Munich she married the sculptor Werner Schurmann. The couple settled in Ireland in 1956 and lived at Woodtown, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. They had three sons. In 1966 Schurmann returned to Germany to pursue a career as an opera singer.
Over the following two decades Frömel rose to prominence as one of the leading sculptors working in Ireland and was in the process of establishing an international reputation at the time of her death. She was highly accomplished at a technical level, being able to work in a diverse range of materials and to deal with complex engineering problems. Her work was first seen in Ireland at the Irish Exhibition of Living Art, where she exhibited from 1957 to 1975. In 1960 and 1962 her work was selected for the Salzburg Biennale for Christian Art, while at the Irish Church Art exhibition of 1962 she was awarded the prize for sculpture. The following year she was awarded the arts council scholarship for sculpture. Drawings by Frömel were included in the arts council exhibition of graphic art held in 1964. In 1964 and 1970 she held solo exhibitions at the Dawson gallery in Dublin. In 1967 she held a joint exhibition with Michael Scott (qv) at the same venue. During the 1960s she also exhibited with the Independent Artists. At Oireachtas exhibitions she received the £100 Waterford Glass award in 1970 and the gold medal for sculpture in 1973.
Frömel's work of this period is characterised by being on an intimate scale. She aimed to bring the viewer as close to the work as possible, and to this end she tended only to place her works on a plinth when practically necessary. While many of these works evoke natural forms, be they human or animal, or refer to the landscape, they also show a strong tendency towards abstraction, as Frömel sought to explore the formal qualities of the media in which she worked. This concern led her to produce fully abstract works where oval and circular forms (often with concave elements) predominate, such as ‘Interlocking alabaster’ (Allied Irish Bank collection). Here Frömel's carving of the alabaster so as to exploit its translucence is indicative of her interest in the innate qualities of her materials.
In her work in bronze the emphasis on the texture achieved through the process of modelling suggests something of the influence of the Swiss sculptor Alberto Giacometti (1901–66). However, the characteristic intimacy of Frömel's work is in strong contrast to the sense of isolation expressed in the work of Giacometti. Similiarly, with regard to her bronze pieces, comparisons may be drawn with the work of Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso (1858–1928). Her works in media such as marble, slate, or alabaster are somewhat reminiscent of Constantin Brancusi (1876–1957) in their formal simplicity. Ultimately, however, such comparisons serve to highlight the individuality of Frömel, whose meticulous work is not in any way derivative.
Beginning in the late 1960s, she began to translate her ideas on to a larger scale with a number of commissions for public sculpture. In 1970 she completed ‘Sails’, a work consisting of three stainless steel forms each 8.5 m high, for the factory of P. J. Carroll & co. at Dundalk, Co. Louth. This piece points to another developing concern for Frömel, that of incorporating an element of movement into her works. In this way she sought to evoke an element of spirituality. Referring to such works, Michael Scott wrote: ‘It is the spiritual, poetic quality of Gerda Frömel's sculpture made of modern technological materials . . . which appeals to me as an architect and which I think makes it so suitable for modern building. She expresses in her work what we should like to express in our architecture’ (Introspect, no. 2 (December 1976), 15).
Other large-scale pieces by Frömel may be found in Dublin at the Setanta building and the Agricultural Credit Corporation, and in Galway at the regional technical college. She also worked in stained glass, executing commissions for Kildare cathedral and for the churches of St Clement at Mulheim and Christ the King at Wuppertal, Germany. Examples of her work may be seen in Dublin in the collections of Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and the arts council. A portrait of the sculptor by Hilda Roberts is in the NGI.
Frömel died 3 August 1975 in a drowning accident at Belmullet, Co. Mayo, and was buried at Whitechurch cemetery, Rathfarnham, Co. Dublin. The following year a retrospective exhibition of her work, organised by the Arts Council and the Goethe Institute, was held at Dublin Municipal Gallery.