by Virginia Bohlin
Boston Herald American, March 10th, 1975


ARTIST Nina Bohlen and her painting of Tropical Birds, currently on exhibit in her one-woman showing at the Boston Athenaeum.
ARTIST Nina Bohlen and her painting of Tropical Birds, currently on exhibit in her one-woman showing at the Boston Athenaeum.

Friends often come to her Brookline apartment, bearing such strange gifts as a dead bird — even the skeleton of an 80-year-old cat.  But Nina Bohlen, niece of the late Charles “Chip” Bohlen, the U.S. diplomat who served as Ambassador to Russia, France, and the Philippines, is always pleased.  Nina is a nature lover and an artist, who-loves to paint birds and animals … live ones, of course. But she welcomes them in all states.

“I’m interested in all natural forms. I come from a family that knows a lot about birds and plants, ” says the Radcliffe ’53 graduate.

But, she admits, there’s always something new to learn … even from dead birds such as the blue heron brought to her shortly after it had broken its neck or the antique cat carcass discovered by friends digging out a Charlestown cellar.

“I can study them to learn more about their feathers or how an animal is put together,” says Nina, who incorporated her studies into two works of art. The two are among the paintings and drawings that Nina presently has on exhibit at the Boston Athenaeum as part of the 170-year-old institution’s new program to promote New England artists.

Besides the bird and animal paintings she also is showing seascapes, shell studies, and drawings of dolls from her collection of antique dolls.

Nina tries to reflect her own interests in her works of art … even to a humorous painting of a pig playing a hurdy-gurdy. “I play various instruments, including the hurdy gurdy. So you might say this is a self-portrait,” smiles the artist. But in no way!  The artist is an attractive young woman, tall and slim, with long ash blond hair and a warm smile.

At least eight hours a day she spends painting or teaching art. Another two hours she spends practicing on her lute. “So that doesn’t leave much time to socialize,” says Nina, who also plays the guitar and bagpipes. There was socializing, however — a reception — to open her Athenaeum showing, being held through March. And for background music Douglas Freundlich played the lute.

Nina’s interest in art was sparked when she was at Radcliffe and took a course in drawing composition from Hyman Bloom, who had taught at Wellesley and happened to be teaching that year at Harvard. In addition to course lessons she took private lessons in painting from the famed artist, who has shown at such museums as Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as well as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

In 1954 she married Bloom, but three years later they were divorced. “We’re still very good friends though. He’s a very remarkable man … a continuing inspiration. We have lunch a couple of times a week.” Bloom waited a week before seeing his ex-wife’s exhibit. “He never goes to openings,” explains Nina, who will go to New York next month when Bloom has his latest showing there.

“I’m very lucky to have had so many remarkable men who have helped me out,” says this talented woman, whose maternal grandfather was Ambassador to France during Cleveland’s administration. Among other “remarkable men” who have influenced Nina she includes her uncles Radcliffe Pike, the botanist and brother of Sumner Pike, the first head of the Atomic Energy Commission, and the late Charles Greenough, onetime M.D.C commissioner.

Nina lived with her uncle and aunt Greenough for a while on the Dover farm. “So growing up in the country I learned a lot about nature as a little girl.” Summers she would spend at her grandfather’s house in Lubec, ME. and her uncle, Radcliffe, the botanist, would teach her about flowers.
People like this who are very good in their field can be a great inspiration to a kid,” says Nina, who with her brother has inherited the family home in Lubec.  “It had a big perennial garden that I’m trying to keep up. But it’s not easy as there used to be a gardener.”

In Brookline she works surrounded with house plant. But next month she moves to Newton where she’ll have garret studio, “I’m going to put in a bubble dome for skylight,” says Nina, who keeps in shape by starting each day by doing yoga exercises for almost an hour.

-Virginia Bohlin