Celebrated S.J. artist donates hand-carved owl to Rowan

Celebrated S.J. artist donates hand-carved owl to Rowan


Celebrated South Harrison Township artist Wolfgang Finger donated a hand-carved, 18-inch great horned owl to Rowan University during a ceremony March 15 in the art-filled lobby outside President Ali Houshmand’s office.

Houshmand, whose passion for all things Rowan often seems unquenchable, touched the bird’s beak, its curved dark talons and carved and burned-in “feathers,” marveling at the level of detail.

“It’s just beautiful,” he said.

Finger, who once made his living as a stone mason, produces a wide range of works including stained and blown glass, wood carvings, paintings and jewelry. He’s shown his work at the former Pitman Gallery and Art Center and it’s been featured in newspapers, magazine articles and on NBC10 Philadelphia.

Inspired by his friend and mentor, world-renowned glass artist and South Jersey resident Paul Stankard, Finger decided to gift a piece of art to Rowan. (Stankard’s works have shown at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Louvre in Paris. In 1998, he donated one of his works to Rowan in honor of then-Congressman Richard Gephardt, whose brother, Donald Gephardt, was then dean of Rowan's College of Fine and Performing Arts. Stankard later received an honorary degree from the University.)

Finger’s carving – made of Louisiana tupelo – took many months and, he believes, might sell for $30,000 or more. But as he recalled working on the piece with his now-grown son Andrew, a Rowan alumnus, bouncing on his knee at the kitchen table, Finger said despite his attachment to the owl the time had come to part with it.

“The owl is Rowan’s mascot and I figured it will be there forever and people will enjoy it,” he said.

While a permanent display site has yet to be determined, the owl is likely headed to the School of Veterinary Medicine, which will be New Jersey’s first when it opens on Rowan’s West Campus. Now in development, the school plans to welcome its first class of students in 2025.

Walking about his art-filled home a few weeks before donating the owl, Finger, whose family emigrated from East Germany when he was a boy, said America has been very good to him and he was happy to donate the carving to Rowan.

“I consider it an honor,” he said.

A lifelong soccer player and coach, Finger was once a professional roller derby player who largely learned English in the Philadelphia neighborhood where his family settled.

Speaking in his plant-filled sunroom, the walls and floors splashed with color as sunlight blazed through a 5’ x 5’ stained glass work he made featuring macaws and green and orange orchids, Finger said despite all he’s done, he’s always returned to art.

“Everybody has certain talents and abilities,” he said. “A love of art is just something I was just born with.”