Robert Wood, Kent Artist and Cultural Icon, Has Died
Art gallery owner believes community needs to determine what will become of Wood's life work.
John Kluth, owner of FJ Kluth Art Gallery, was surprised Sunday morning to receive a call from Robinson Memorial Hospital informing him that iconic Kent resident Robert Wood had died. Unbeknownst to Kluth, Wood had listed him as his emergency contact.
“They said it was a cardiac event and that he died pretty quickly, which is kind of a relief to me because as he has gotten older he’s been more of a concern for how he took care of himself. I guess that’s over now,” Kluth said.
Lt. Patrick Edwards of the Kent Fire Department confirmed that a squad responded to a 5:04 a.m. call to Woods’ 401 Summit Gardens home and transported him to Robinson.
What happens next – in terms of a memorial service or what will become of Wood's decades of artwork – is a mystery to Kluth.
“I don’t know what my responsibility or role is. There is a lawyer in Ravenna … who should be contacted. I’m assuming he’ll be able to straighten out the legalities of this to determine ... next of kin and so forth,” Kluth said. “(Wood) was always by himself – and I really didn’t ever pry into his personal affairs.”
Kluth thinks Wood may have listed him as his emergency contact years ago, when Wood regularly used Kluth's art gallery phone and would give out the number as his own. “For a long time I was his phone number and received all his personal calls, from doctors and other people,” Kluth explained.
Wood had lived in Kent since the 1960s and had been active in the art scene since he stepped foot on this black squirrel soil, Elaine Hullihen reported in a Kent Patch feature story about Wood's career.
Wood moved to Kent from his hometown of Struthers, OH, and earned his bachelor's degree in studio art in 1968. That was followed by a master's degree in painting in 1973 from Kent State University.
However, many Kent residents and Kent State students did not know Wood as an artist, but as the hippie-looking man who used to flip off passing motorists from various intersections in town. He developed a cult following of sorts for that behavior, and he told Hullihen last fall that he didn’t like the resulting nickname.
Kluth and Wood got to know each other about 15 years ago, when Kluth’s former Open Space Art Gallery was located in the Johnson Building on North Mantua Street, where Wood rented a small apartment. The 1906 building was demolished to make way for the Sheetz gas station at the intersection of North Mantua and Fairchild Avenue.
“Having the gallery there was a great convenience to Robert. He would come in and use the phone and the computer, so he was there a lot,” Kluth said, adding that Wood moved to Summit Gardens when the Johnson Building was sold.
When Kluth opened his new FJ Kluth Art Gallery at 300 N. Water St., he continued to allow Wood to store his artwork there.
“He was a regular (vendor) at the (Haymaker) Farmers’ Market, but he stored his materials here. I have a dolly he would load up with his stuff and push it over to the farmers’ market, do his thing, then push it back here. So in warmer weather I was seeing him once a week,” Kluth said.
The Rev. Melissa Carvill-Ziemer of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kent shared the news of Wood’s passing with her congregation Sunday morning. Kluth, a church member, talked with Carvill-Ziemer numerous times Sunday in an attempt to figure out what will become of Wood and his artwork.
Carvill-Ziemer said Wood was a “friend of the congregation” who would attend services periodically and social events frequently. The church has displayed Wood’s artwork in its sanctuary.
“He was very interested in philosophy and intellectually oriented material, so when I would have a sermon along those lines he would attend. If he missed it, he’d ask me for a copy of the manuscript when we would run into each other at the farmers’ market. Then, the next time I’d see him, he would offer commentary on it,” she chuckled.
Kluth said the community needs to determine what will become of Wood’s life work.
“As a community, we need to consider whether his art is of lasting value and needs to be preserved in some context,” Kluth said. “If the community decides that they want to memorialize him with some kind of an exhibit, I have control of a considerable amount of his work because it’s stored here at the gallery – but it’s not truly mine.”
While Kluth said he “wasn’t very successful at selling” Wood’s artwork when he was alive, he’s already turned away customers today who had heard about his death.
“Some people came in to buy it today but I didn’t want to sell it to them because we need to think about the impact of his art on the community. We have to consider his legacy,” Kluth said.