The Koelz Collection of Himalayan Art

About the Collection

Biography of Walter Norman Koelz

Walter N. Koelz was born in 1895 in the small town of Waterloo, Michigan, where his father, a Swabian immigrant, was the village blacksmith. Upon graduating from high school, Koelz was awarded a scholarship from Olivet College in south-central Michigan. He began his study there in the natural sciences though he eventually chose to major in languages. After graduation, one of his former science teachers recommended him for the position of staff assistant at the University of Michigan's biological station at Douglas Lake, and Koelz joined the University as a graduate student assistant. This opportunity reawakened his earlier interests in biology and he decided to pursue a doctoral degree in ichthyology, completing his dissertation on Great Lakes whitefish in 1920.

Walter Koelz

Koelz began his career as a world traveler in 1925 when he agreed to serve as naturalist to the MacMillan Expedition to the Arctic sponsored by the National Geographic Society. It was in 1930 that he undertook the first of what would become three decades of journeys to Asia, when he signed up to head the biological section of the Himalayan Research Institute of the Roerich Museum in Kulu, India. He spent nearly two years in the region before falling out with his employer and returning to the United States, moving briefly to New Mexico where he collected Native American pottery and traditional arts.

In 1932, the Regents of the University of Michigan appointed Koelz as a Research Fellow, supported by the Charles L. Freer Fund. His main duty under this appointment was to travel to British India to collect biological specimens and material culture for the University's Museums of Zoology and Anthropology (University of Michigan Regents Proceedings, 1929-1932, p. 241). It was during this two-year trip that the majority of the Museum of Anthropology Koelz Collection was acquired. Koelz returned to Michigan in 1934 and worked for nearly two years in a government parks project in his hometown of Waterloo, Michigan. He returned to Asia in 1936 on behalf of the United States Department of Agriculture, beginning a journey that would last some seventeen years, taking him to India, Nepal, and Assam, and from 1939 to 1946, to Iran. Koelz returned to his house of birth in Waterloo, Michigan, in 1953. He passed away on September 24, 1989, at the age of ninety-four.

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