Guido Lang (1856–1921), the proprietor of the most important woodcarving business in Oberammergau at the time, commissioned the building of the museum between 1904 and 1910 for the presentation of carvings and reverse glass painings from Oberammgau. It opened as the ‘Verleger Lang’sche kunst- und kulturgeschichtliche Oberammergauer Museum’ – ‘The Merchant-Manufacturer Lang Museum for the Art and Cultural History of Oberammergau’. He instructed the Munich architect Franz Zell to design the building as well as its interior and the presentation of the collections.
The nine rooms on the first floor still largely contain the original museum cabinets from 1910 – a ‘museum within a museum’, so to speak. The focal point is on Oberammergau wood carving.
In Oberammergau’s harsh climate farming had never been sufficiently profitable to ensure a livelihood for all residents of the village. As a result they were forced to look for other ways to earn a living at a very early date. The wealth of timber, the village’s location on the long-distance trade route between Venice and Augsburg and its proximity to the much visited pilgrimage church in Ettal monastery that had been founded in 1330 and where crucifixes and keep-sakes were sold, led to the establishment of woodcarving’s prominent role in Oberammergau in the late Middle Ages. The first written evidence of this can be found in a report of 1508 by Francesco Vettori of Florence on his travels. “In order to earn a living the majority of residents [made] the finest of woodcarvings and crucifixes as well as other carved scenes in nutshells […] that were sent elsewhere to be sold.”