For Students


Bohlen Wood Art Collection

Ray Allen
Mesquite, satinwood, bloodwood
UMMA collection, Gift of Robert M. and Lillian Montalto Bohlen, 2002/2.119

In 1997, Brighton, Michigan resident Robert M. Bohlen visited a gallery in San Francisco where he became captivated by a carved wooden box. Inspired, he began to learn more about the medium of wood, bringing to the task the same energy and intensity that have marked his successful business and civic endeavors. Within a few short years he had amassed what has become one of the country’s most important collections of wood art, known among experts as particularly discerning and adventurous. In 2002, Robert and Lillian Montalto Bohlen very generously gave the Museum of Art sixty-eight of these remarkable wood objects.

Like sculptors working in stone, wood artists liberate the forms that they envision within the material, taking into consideration the characteristics of wood grain, tone, color, and texture. Some pieces embrace and celebrate the color and texture of the wood, while others use it as a point of departure, with the artists applying pigment, inlay, gilding, and other materials and techniques that achieve effects that are at times difficult to reconcile with our expectations about the look and feel of wood.

In 2004, the Bohlen gift of wood art was featured in the Museum’s hugely popular exhibition, Nature Transformed: Wood Art from the Bohlen Collection. The exhibition—which was accompanied by a major catalogue— also toured nationally. A selection of works from the Bohlen gift will appear in future installations of twentieth-century art from the Museum’s collections.