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ONE ARTIST'S EARTHY IDEA OF THE WORLD

Ceramic artist Neil Tetkowski is back in Buffalo today, opening an exhibit at the Burchfield-Penney Art Center consisting of 188 bottles of -- what's that? -- looks like dirt.

That's right, dirt -- gathered painstakingly from each of the 188 member countries of the United Nations, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

In January, an 8-foot clay disk that the Grand Island native made from the mixed earth of all the nations of the world will be permanently installed in the lobby of the United Nations.

But for now, the traveling portion of the U.N. exhibit -- the 188-bottle Common Ground World Project -- will open tonight with a reception from 5:30 to 7:30 in the art gallery in Buffalo State College's Rockwell Hall. The show runs through Jan. 20.

Three years in the making, the Common Ground World Project is a crowning achievement for Tetkowski, expressing his personal yearning for a unified humanity. Already a famous artist whose works had been exhibited from Toronto to Tokyo, Tetkowski came upon the idea that all the diverse peoples of the world -- symbolized by the varicolored clays of their native lands -- might someday become one, and live in peace, by a unified act of will.

It seems fitting that the traveling show should stop in Buffalo -- on its way from Georgia to the Midwest -- because the first $50,000 in financial support came from several Western New York couples who share Tetkowski's vision of a better world as well as an interest in his art.

The donors included Howard Zemsky of Russer Foods, builder Louis P. Ciminelli, investor David Zebro, art patrons Sylvia Rosen and Gary Brost, the Flickinger family, Jordan Levy and Larry Nemeth.

Tetkowski, whose studio used to be next door to Just Pasta, at Ashland Avenue and Bryant Street, has another show running in Buffalo. "The Memory of the Material" opened Saturday in the new Flickinger Gallery at the Tri-Main Center, 2495 Main St. A review of his work since leaving Buffalo eight years ago, the exhibit runs through Nov. 10.

e-mail: acardinale@buffnews.com

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