On Christmas Day, 1945, American serviceman Walter Lutz found himself — as did so many others of his comrades — in Japan. He was stationed there with the United States occupation forces immediately following the end of World War II. But Lutz’s life would take a decisive turn that day, because he met his future wife, Mona Miwako Furuki. After they were married, Walter and Mona almost immediately began collecting bamboo artifacts from throughout the country with an incredible passion and zeal. After the 1960s, they expanded their collecting to include bamboo pieces from the rest of Asia.

The couple collected ahead of the curve, allowing them to find exquisite things in a wide range of categories. There are baskets, of course, which is what most people think of when the idea of things made of bamboo comes up, but there are also sculptures and lanterns, fans and brush pots, trays and tea ceremony utensils, among a wide range of both decorative and utilitarian objects. There are even small pieces of furniture.

It’s all very beautiful and interesting, and it makes one wonder why the Lutzes, who lived in Japan, would end up giving some 900 works to the Denver Art Museum. The answer can be found with Ronald Otsuka, the DAM's Dr. Joseph de Heer Curator of Asian Art, who first met Walter and Mona in June 1976. And Otsuka, who espouses considerable enthusiasm for bamboo articles — marveling at how many different ways the natural material is used — made a good impression. Just four years later, the couple made their first gift to the museum, and they continued giving for many years.

On September 26, the Walter and Mona Lutz Gallery will be unveiled at the DAM, with an exhibit curated by Otsuka christening it. The first show is called Shape & Spirit: Selections From the Lutz Bamboo Collection and includes 200 gorgeous and intriguing pieces of bamboo. The design of the gallery, which is on the fifth floor of Gio Ponti’s North Building, is very minimal. It was done by Kevin Trainor from Condit, working together with Adelle Lutz, Walter and Mona’s daughter. The floor and one wall are covered in richly hued bamboo planks. The other walls are painted a light silver-gray.

Near the entrance, a large cabinet with integral showcases serves as a room divider. In addition, there are airy showcases on tall metal legs lining the walls, as well as one large one in the center of the space. The cabinet and showcases are plain and painted in the same light silver-gray as the walls. It’s very chic-looking.

“It took over thirty years to open this gallery, and it was well worth the wait,” says Otsuka. The Denver Art Museum is at 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway; go to or call 720-865-5000.
Sept. 26-19, 2009

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia