March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Former MSU professor turns wood into artworks


Professor-turned-wood-artisan Bruce Miller is Gallery 1212’s featured artist for the month of January and according, to gallery co-owner Donna Randall, Miller is anything but typical.

“He’s a little different than a traditional artist. It’s fun to see a different take on things,” she said.

After retiring from Michigan State University as a philosophy professor in 2000, Miller became interested in the structure of gondolas. He had studied boat building in the past and successfully attempted to build the Venetian boat, which is generally around 36 feet long and weighs more than 800 pounds.

Gondolas are built with several exotic woods, which happen to be sold at Johnson’s Lumber in Charlotte. Using these woods, Miller started building forcole, the rowlocks on gondolas. Miller said he enjoyed the interesting, organic shape of a forcola and hadn’t considered making actual art, but he had plenty of wood to use.

“I had lots of blocks of wood left over, so I thought I’d make three-dimensional shapes,” Miller said.

As a first-time artist, Miller began constructing large, free-standing pieces by combining several pieces of the various woods, including purpleheart, zebra wood, and lacewood. What started out as an interesting project in retirement had turned into a new hobby for Miller.

“It’s the fun of doing it and it’s your own sort of artistic imagination,” he said on why he enjoys his new trade.

Although his only experience with wood in the past had been with making some pieces of furniture, he has embraced his new craft. Miller is now making flat, wall-hanging pieces in a similar fashion as well.

“It’s sort of a jigsaw puzzle,” he said. “You work these pieces together on a flat surface and make them satisfy your eye as an artist.”

Although he’s not looking to do art shows anytime soon, Miller’s work has been displayed at several galleries including Hankins Gallery in Lansing and Mackerel Sky in East Lansing.

Gallery 1212 keeps a catalogue of artists that they are considering for their monthly featured artist. Randall said they usually see their work in other galleries or hear of them through the art community, but finding Miller was slightly different.

Randall met Miller through her husband, Tom, at the Lansing Rowing Club. After seeing his Venetian boat, she convinced Miller to enter an art competition at the Lansing Art Gallery, which he won a prize for.

“He just has gone great guns,” Randall said.

Miller’s work is on display at Gallery 1212 through Feb. 1.

Gallery 1212 Fine Art Studios

1212 Turner St., Lansing

(517) 999-1212