If Suzanne Witthoff’s idea hadn’t taken root, the museum shop at the University of Michigan Museum of Art might have been filled with $67,000 worth of mulch instead of beautiful hand crafted wooden bowls and vases.
In 2009 the art museum welcomed a 53,000-square foot addition to its home in Alumni Memorial Hall, at the heart of the Ann Arbor campus, but its construction required that 26 trees be removed from the property and become so much mulch. Suzanne (who has since retired from her post as the museum shop’s manager) envisioned a different fate for the fallen oak, maple, ginkgo, and honey locust trees: She proposed that the timber be turned over to woodturners who would use it to craft functional and decorative objects to be sold in the shop.
When the Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing (that’s a $10 million benefactor name) opened, the museum store’s glass shelves were loaded with inventory created from the trees that had stood on the spot. The 70 wood artists from across the country donated to UMMA the nearly 1,000 works they coaxed out of the woods—$67,000 worth of platters, bowls and vessels, and frames for beautiful peacock tiles from Detroit’s Pewabic Pottery.
The wooden works have proven popular as wedding gifts and with alumni who want to own a piece of their past. The variety isn’t as large as it was initially, but you’ll find a selection of handcrafted works of art that will look much better in your home than mulch.
Stopping at the museum shop before visiting the galleries was a mistake; we spent so much time browsing the Michigan-made items that we ate into the parking meter-limited, two-hour time slot we had to see the art.
We were impressed with the space—the addition and renovated existing museum—and what we saw of the permanent collection. I liked several Picassos, a tabletop mobile (“maquette-sized object”) by Calder, and the bronze sculpture “Man in Motion” by Mino Rosso (1934). We were able to only scratch the surface with a brief overview of the Contemporary and Asian galleries, European and American Decorative Art, and the Open Storage display that included Chinese ceramics and modernist glass.
Next time, we’ll save the museum shop stop for last and tuck our vehicle into a parking garage so we can concentrate on the art, not the clock.
University of Michigan Museum of Art
525 South State St., Ann Arbor, Michigan; (734) 764-0395
The museum is closed on Mondays and select holidays. Admission is free; $5 suggested donation.
Area A on map
All stories and photos copyright Kath Usitalo unless otherwise noted