The William Benton Museum of Art showcases the incorporation of wood in art through their exhibition ‘Encounters with the Collection: Wood’

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This past Friday the William Benton Museum of Art hosted a Critical LOOKing dialogue on a specific piece titled “Of War and Peace,” an artwork done by oil on panel by Aaron Bohrod in 1956. The piece is held in the Benton’s “Encounters with the Collection: Wood” exhibition, which focuses on different pieces of art, all made by incorporating wood in some aspect.  

Assistant Curator and Academic Liaison Amanda Douberely was gracious enough to give me an entire tour of the exhibition, while focusing on and explaining certain pieces. The first drawing we discussed focused on using wood as a material in the process of art making. French artist Jacques-Louis David executed this drawing of a nude man by using charcoal. 

“Where wood is used in these artworks is charcoal, which is a drawing medium that is made by charring the ends of very specific kinds of sticks,” said Douberely. “Artists like to use charcoal to make studies like these because on paper it is really easy to make corrections.” 

The exhibition does not only include paintings and drawings, but also sculptures.  

University of Connecticut Professor Emeritus Josef Gugler brought back a sculpture, titled “Igbo Figure,” from Nigeria when he and his wife partook in a research trip there. He collected the objects directly from the artist.  

“Igbo Figure” by Oguocha Egoze, 1961. This sculpture was included in the Benton Museum of Art’s new “Wood” collection, featuring more paintings and portraits incorporating any aspect of wood. Photo Courtesy of: Jordana Castelli/Daily Campus

“These carvings were never concentrated, so they were never used,” said Douberely. “In traditional African arts, the artists’ names are not usually taken down and associated with their work in the ways that we do in the United States, for example.”  

When curating the exhibition, Douberely strategically picks pieces that can work together to create a pleasing experience for the viewer.  

“K Column” by Liz Quisgard works to complement “Snake Man” by Alison Saar, since both pieces include dots, which can be seen throughout the entire piece of the former, and on the snake of the latter.  

“You have to make decisions and be strategic about how you’re positioning things in relation to each other,” said Douberely. “As a visitor [the dots give] you some kind of threads to pull, and also, I think, can subconsciously make connections between things that otherwise don’t have connections between them at all.”  

“K Column” is an example of using materials that can be found anywhere. For example, pieces of wood that can be bought at Home Depot or cardboard columns that are used in construction. 

“One of the things that I like about focusing on wood is it’s such a common material,” said Douberely.   

“It’s one that you can find all over the world.”  

At the back wall of the exhibition, the viewer is introduced to four pieces of artwork that originate from Chile.  

“Arpilleras” represents life for Chilean citizens during the totalitarian military regime of General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte.  

The informational note reads, “Poor women and women whose husbands, sons, or brothers were killed or imprisoned by the government met each week around crowded tables in one-room workshops on the outskirts of Santiago, where they shared their burdens and stitched small but meaningful tapestries.”  

When looking closely, the use of wood may not be immediately evident; however these women incorporated the wood in tiny but beautiful ways.  

“The church sponsored these workshops to give women an opportunity to basically make money,” said Douberely.  

The artwork is made by felt and other materials that are then stitched together.  

“They show scenes of everyday life, and in some cases show protests,” said Douberely. “It was a chance for people to try to communicate to the outside world what was happening to them during this time period.”  

These are only a few examples of the pieces that are currently on exhibition in the Gilman Galley at the Benton. “Encounters with the Collection: Wood” is a carefully curated collection that truly enhances the intricacies and specialities of working with wood. If you would like to learn more, visit https://benton.uconn.edu/encounters-with-the-collection-wood/.  

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