Describing the abstract

Audacious: The Fine Art of Wood opened at PEM on February 21st. One important lesson we can learn from Bob and Lillian Montalto Bohlen’s collection is that wood art comes in a many forms, shapes, and colors. Wood art has expanded beyond the utilitarian craft of bowls or vessels or even exquisite furniture, and Audacious contains many works that are abstract forms.


Intersphere (above) and Double Helix (below)

The problem is, how do you describe these pieces to someone else?

Many times, while we were making the exhibition catalog, I would find myself saying things like “you know, the green one with the holes in it” (Intersphere from David Ellsworth’s Solstice Series) or “How about the spiral bowl, with the thousands of pieces?” (Hal Metlitzky’s Double Helix).

Sometimes a short description worked, but more often than not we had to go back and forth several times before we arrived at the same object.

As an experiment, I surveyed my friends and PEM coworkers. I showed them pictures of works from the exhibition and asked them to try to describe them to someone else. Their answers vary widely — and are very creative — but it remains to be seen if they described the pieces effectively.

So, here’s a challenge for you.

Can you pick out which object from Audacious matches the descriptions below?

Hover over the images for the answers, or come take a walk around the exhibition for a greater challenge.

1. “A set of propellers”
“Circular future desk art paper holder”
“Acrobats, or the hood ornament of a car”

2. “A roller coaster”
“A dragon’s tail”
“A curly cue swirly whirl”

3. “A bird wing”
“Onion or a shallot”
“Layered pages of a book”

4. “Organic shapes with lots of sections
carved out. A brown lattice”
“Leaves covered in melted chocolate”
“Poured amber or poured sap”

5. “A bat”
“A duck foot, or a SCUBA flipper”
“An insect carapace”

6. “Deep sea squid”
“Red vessel with tendrils that looks
like it could get up and chase me”
“Holy votive radish”

7. “Steampunk miniature”
“Writing desk with crazy modern finials”
“Medieval castle”

8. “Triptych of red pearlescent
duckbilled platypuses”
“Three people having a chat”
“Fingers with fingernails”

9. “A tree ate a cookie”
“A cauldron”
“A forgotten bird bath”

10. “A sun exploding”
“Han Solo in carbonite”
“Slats coming out from a ball”

11. “A dancer”
“Thin red lines”
“A rhythmic gymnast with a ribbon”

12. “Fish mouth”
“Acorn handbag”
“Old fashioned football helmet”

13. “A cherry”
“A Christmas ornament”
“A piece of candy with a long
straw coming out the top”

14. “A frog swimming”
“Road kill”
“A flat wooden octopus”


  1. Sandy Sheckman says:

    What fun! Good to know that others play these games too; especially good that those of you behind the scenes and in ‘responsible positions’ have a great sense of humor. Creativity all over the place at PEM.

  2. Sylvia Belkin says:

    Every time PEM has a new exhibit I say it’s the best I’ve ever seen anywhere. Well, here I go again. The art objects presented in Audacious are simply breathtaking. Unbelievable. That artists have the imagination to see these pieces in their minds eye as they will appear, let alone the skill and finesse to make them happen… , well, breathtaking. Thank you, PEM, for another magnificent presentation.

  3. Marcy Lieberman says:

    I am grateful for this exhibit. It was so overwhelming that I plan on going back. There were so many objects – I feel as though a number of separate exhibits could be made from this one which had so very many objects and such incredible diversity.

    My preferred art objects have hitherto been ceramics, glass, watercolors. I love the objects made by Wendell Castle and others in the 60′s and later, but now I have a new passion.

    Thank you!

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