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Fate of Kent Artist's Work Uncertain 1 Year After His Death

Supporters of Robert E. Wood's art look to archive thousands of pieces of original work

It's been a year since iconic Kent artist Robert Wood died, yet friends and supporters still struggle to find the value of his work to the Kent community.

That doesn't mean Wood's closest friends don't think there's value in his portfolio, which includes thousands of individual pieces of art.

Instead, they're trying to determine how best to catalogue, archive and display his works in a way that most benefits fellow artists and patrons alike in the Kent area.

"When he died, a lot of people came to me and said that the work should be catalogued and archived," said John Kluth, a long-time friend of Wood. "And of course the reason for cataloguing and archiving his collection is because it has some meaning to future generations.

"So that was the original idea," Kluth said. "But the process is somewhat complicated by the fact that Robert didn’t have a will."

Understanding an Artist

For the past 11 months since Wood's death, Kent resident Mara DeMattia has talked to his friends and fellow artists, studied whatever works of his she could find and started to compile an oral history of his life. She's done all this in an attempt to gauge the value of his collection.

"Because I didn’t know him in his lifetime," she said. "So I’m only meeting him as the artist who he was." 

Wood, who died unexpectedly Feb. 5, 2012 at the age of 68, 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.

Over the years he had won numerous awards in juried regional exhibitions in Akron and Youngstown. In 2003 he received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship Grant. Most recently he was recognized in The 2nd Annual May Show at Lakeland Juried Art Exhibition for a digital print.

Wood experimented with a variety of techniques, including oil and watercolor paintings and computer-generated images.

DeMattia said the goal of her research is to give value to his life's work.

"And if you have a good archive of his work, then you can choose to make displays based upon that archive," she said. "You can market his work and find his audience in and out of Kent. You can find his place in the art world and in his time in history."

DeMattia is optimistic it can be done.

"That it should be done, I absolutely believe it should be done," she said. "In his way, he was a pioneer of his time. He was an absolutely solid artist. He was regarded so by his professors and peers."

She will give a presentation on Wood's work Sunday. Click here for more information.

Thousands of Pieces

Kluth has possession of between 500 and 600 pieces of Wood's artwork — only 20 percent of his work by Kluth's estimates — at the FJ Kluth Gallery on North Water Street.

DeMattia said she estimates that as many as 11,000 or more pieces of artwork are spread out in four more locations across the Kent area.

DeMattia said that Wood worked everyday of his life during his career as an artist. By simple math, she said that over the course of 40 years Wood could have produced more than 14,000 pieces of work.

"That’s a lot of pieces of work," DeMattia said. "So I expect that when I come across the total of his body of work … that by piece by piece by piece of paper for original pieces of work I will expect to find about 12,000 pieces of work. If they’re not destroyed."

DeMattia said Wood's work is spread out between Kluth's gallery, at the homes of friends and in a storage unit.

Ravenna attorney Ralph Megargel has control of the storage unit filled with what is expected to be the bulk of Wood's work, DeMattia said.

Megargel did not return a call seeking comment.

Kluth said that Wood's relatives, who are not Ohio residents, would likely control what happens to the works within the storage unit.

That means it's a real possibility the family may consider auctioning off the works.

"When an artist dies, it changes the valuation," Kluth said.

How, Where to Archive

There are many challenges posed in trying to archive and estimate the worth of Wood's collection, including paying for the process and finding suitable storage and display space.

Both Kluth and DeMattia estimate it could cost hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, to catalogue Wood's work and create a digital archive.

Kluth said there are some potential organizations that could house Wood's collection, including Kent State University and the Artists Archive of the Western Reserve, a group that preserves the work of prominent Ohio visual artists.

"The one thing that is clear is we don’t have the money to do the cataloguing and archiving right now anyway," he said.

A memorial fund established in Wood's memory at Hometown Bank has about $600. Kluth suggests that $100,000 might be more appropriate to cover the archival work.

"It’s not a simple thing," Kluth said. "My review of his work suggests that it’s more important than the prices he got for the work in his life. And so I think we should try to pursue this."

Chris (Kit) Myers February 01, 2013 at 11:46 AM
I have a piece of Robert Wood's work that I purchased from Sue Nelson. She said he produced it while a graduate student. If someone cataloguing his work wants to photograph it, just call me. It is definitely not for sale.
Debra-Lynn Hook February 01, 2013 at 12:06 PM
Could this be a traveling exhibit that ultimately pays for itself? A patron of the arts (group or individual) could front the initial expense, then hope to recoup. Venues could be traditional and more atypical -- like Bob.
Resident of Kent February 01, 2013 at 03:18 PM
Contact Kent State University and propose that they work with the family in obtaining the paintings in the storage unit (ie: buy), then collect donations and set up a permanent display. How about creating a wall along the new walkway and enshrine some of his works? Hmm? Sounds good to me.
Randy McFarland February 01, 2013 at 07:32 PM
I like that/\
Mick Mummy February 01, 2013 at 11:50 PM
I'm confused by the wildly broad range in estimated cost of cataloguing his work... "Both Kluth and DeMattia estimate it could cost hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, to catalogue Wood's work and create a digital archive." I take that to mean several hundred upto a few thousand bucks... Then it says this... "A memorial fund established in Wood's memory atHometown Bank has about $600. Kluth suggests that $100,000 might be more appropriate to cover the archival work." Which is it?
Andrew X King February 02, 2013 at 12:01 AM
He used to draw me often as I studied. I would love to own one of these pieces.
The Omnipotent Sponge - Soak it up! February 02, 2013 at 01:12 AM
"When an artist dies, it changes the valuation," Kluth said. That's the real problem. No one really gives a horses batootie about you while you're alive but the moment you're gone, people suddenly care. Family magically cares (only about your works, mind you). Imagine how his life would have been had this much support and dedication been rallied 'round him from the beginning. Or any of our lives, for that matter. How we could have positively affected his life.
Sa;;y February 02, 2013 at 01:29 PM
His work definitely needs to be on display. Of course, his family should have a say in what is done. Robert Wood is a big part of Kent's history.
David Badagnani February 06, 2013 at 06:11 AM
Why did Megargel not return a call seeking comment?

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