Born in West Point, Iowa in 1943, Leslie Bohnenkamp served in the navy after high
school before attending St. Ambrose College and receiving a master’s degree in textile design at the University of Iowa. In his early days as an artist, Bohnenkamp worked at the Betty Parsons gallery; she would later exhibit his work.
Despite having quickly mastered traditional weaving techniques, Bohnenkamp became more interested in off-loom methods of working with fibers. In 1969, he created his first free-standing, woven sculptures, experimenting with animal hair, twine, and leather. Shortly after, Bohnenkamp created what he called “wall drawings,” echoing the work of artists Gego and Richard Tuttle but with a focus on textiles and unique materials, such as horsehair. His trademark medium, however, would soon become coiled and painted paper.
As he developed his process of making lifelike coiled paper sculptures, Bohnenkamp
often alluded to natural shapes and designs such as shells and sea creatures. Showing a deep interest in tactility, most of Bohnenkamp’s work also explores the shape of the spiral. Bohnenkamp also expressed a sense of humor, using seemingly simple shapes and forms of abstraction in new, humorous ways.
Bohnenkamp participated in numerous residencies as well as a 1973-74 fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center, Provincetown, MA, where he later exhibited much of his work. He also received many prestigious grants, notably two from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.
Bohnenkamp’s first New York solo show took place at the Parsons-Dreyfus Gallery in 1979; he also had multiple solo exhibitions at Gimpel & Weitzenhoffer, NY. The artist also participated in many group showings, including Susan Larson’s Language of Abstraction, 1979.
Collections that hold works by Bohnenkamp include Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Portland Museum of Art, Portland, ME; Julia Rothschild Foundation; and the University of Iowa Stanley Museum of Art, Iowa City, IA.
Unfortunately, Bohnenkamp was struck by a car in 1980; although he continued to work for about a decade after the accident, he eventually became unable to work. As a result of these injuries, he died in 1997 at the age of 54. Bohnenkamp leaves behind a legacy of innovative work that greatly contributed to the processes of weaving and to the presence of textile work in modern sculpture.