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Peter Gerbic

Peter Gerbic
Tidal, terra cotta
Unfortunately, casual viewers often regard objects in terra cotta more ‘craft’ than ‘fine art.’ As craft, the object is defined by its utility, with its image or pattern relegated to mere ornament or decoration. Artists like Peter Gerbic, however, force our acknowledgement that the distinction between ‘craft’ and ‘fine art’ is too often made and with too little meaning. For Gerbic, terra cotta is simply a medium, much like bronze or paint and canvas, which the artist manipulates in accordance with his aesthetic intent. It is, in his own words, “the shapeless mud of infinite possibility.”

This point may seem facile on the surface but becomes important when we consider viewer participation in a work of art. For the terra cotta artist, invoking the viewer’s memories and associations in completing the image is even more difficult because the viewer quite naturally seeks a ‘referent’ in other objects of like use, such as bowls, plates, or vases. When one of Gerbic’s objects, Sastrugi, was exhibited in the Gallery, Gallery patrons invariably asked the question, ”But what is it for?”. The idea that it was merely for viewing seemed incompatible with the medium; one would never ask this question of a painting or a cast bronze object. Here the viewer’s associations with the image – an association so important to the referential abstractionist - were competing with the viewer’s associations with the medium. The first task of the terra cotta artist, therefore, must be getting the viewer to see beyond the fact that the work is in terra cotta.

Peter Gerbic
Sastrugi, terra cotta

For Peter Gerbic, though, there is something particularly fitting in his use of terra cotta. What could be more appropriate for the depiction of natural forms than “cooked earth,” as the artist prefers to call the medium. The earth is, after all, the mother of all natural forms, and it is in “Great Nature” that Peter finds the physical ‘referent’ to virtually all of his images:

…whether it is in the form of a water-sculpted stone, the intricate pattern of a leaf, the soft undulations of a landscape or the myriad configurations of the sun, moon, and the stars.

Terra cotta also recalls to us our prehistoric roots. It is the medium in which ancient peoples first expressed their fears and yearnings. It is the artistic ‘language’ of primitive cultures:

…which I understand in the best sense of the word to mean the first, the primary, the original, having a common language of humanity that transcends place of origin and specific cultures

A native of Vermont, Peter received his B.F.A. from Middlebury College and his M.F.A. from R.I.T.’s School of American Craftsmen. He helped establish the ceramics program at F.L.C.C. and was twice head of its Ceramics Department.


Peter Gerbic
Turtle Island, ceramic

Peter Gerbic
Stream Poem, terra cotta
Peter Gerbic
And Never the Twain Shall Meet, terra cotta

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