Former city resident returns with ‘Remembrance’ display

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Multimedia artist and Johnstown native Peter Calaboyias has an exhibit at Bottle Works—Arts on Third Avenue that is featured in both the Bottle Works building and the neighboring Art Works building.

The exhibit, titled “Remembrance,” opened Oct. 21 and is to remain on display through Jan. 13.

The exhibit showcases the versatility of Calaboyias as an artist, featuring more than 70 pieces of work representing a variety of mediums that include drawing, painting and sculpture. Some of the pieces are new, while others date back to the 1960s.

Calaboyias, who resides and maintains a studio in Pittsburgh, is an artist whose work has been featured on Penn State’s campus as well as inside the Pittsburgh International Airport.

Bottle Works Executive Director Angela Rizzo said that this will be Calaboyias’ largest show ever to be featured in Johnstown. The last time his work was exhibited in the city was in 2003, the same year when Calaboyias was inducted into the Bottle Works Hall of Fame.

“We should be thrilled and honored that he is a native,” Rizzo said. “Many of his works are inspired by Johnstown or Greece. Both places obviously have had a huge influence in his life.”

Calaboyias was born in 1940 Icaria, Greece, but his family settled in Johnstown in 1946. His father was a partner in the Franklin Lunch restaurant along Franklin Street. Calaboyias lived in Brownstown, Conemaugh Borough and Kernville. During his younger years, he said he felt “confined” by the city and his surroundings.

“We did not own a car and only left town in the summer to visit relatives in Ohio,” Calaboyias said. “As I looked around there were mountains on every horizon. I rarely traveled beyond and felt confined.”

So, after receiving his high school diploma on June 6, 1958, from Johnstown High, Calaboyias set forth on a new journey and traveled to New York, where he enrolled at New York University.

“My interest was in math studies and maybe engineering,” Calaboyias said, “but I always enjoyed the art experience. It could be that while in the Belgian Congo, as children, we made toys from weeds, sticks and natural materials.”

In New York, he met a “sea of unusual people,” including artists and actors. He and his new friends often traveled to galleries, and that’s when Calaboyias began to further develop his interest in art.

“It was abstract expressionism era, and I was attracted to some small welded steel sculptures,” he said.

Later that year, however, Calaboyias received a phone call from his father. He and his brother were needed at the restaurant back in Johnstown.

“Of course, I had to return,” he said. “I always wondered where my life would have led me if I had stayed in New York.”

Calaboyias returned to the restaurant and to school — this time, Penn State.

“At Penn State, I was interested in engineering, but also added studio courses to my schedule,” he said. 

“One day, the dean of the art education department stopped in to the clay studio and approached me to see my clay creation. He later encouraged me to consider art education as a major with studio arts studies. I had great admiration for him — Victor Lowenfeld, the father of modern art education curriculums.”

From there, Calaboyias settled in Pittsburgh. For six years, he taught with the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The next phase of his teaching career involved 27 years with Community College of Allegheny County and 19 years at Grove City College as an artist-in-residence. He also had the opportunity to teach at Carnegie-Mellon University.

He later received his master’s in education in art from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and, in between his teaching duties, Calaboyias found the time to exhibit his works. He said that his work was warmly received and began to draw attention “almost immediately.”

“In the summer of 1963, I lived in Oakland, near the University of Pittsburgh, with a driveway where I began welding metal,” he said. “On an August evening of 1963, a few artists and I held an exhibition in the driveway. There were a great number of visitors, and the next day, the Pittsburgh Press had a story about the three artists exhibiting on Filmore Street.”

In his artist’s statement, Calaboyias wrote that “Artists need to exhibit to an audience. Some artists may never exhibit and their works will get lost in the passage of time.”

Calaboyias believes that artists should exhibit their work as much as they can.

“There are documentations of artists who earned great fame, but, in time, slowly vanished from the journals of art. Although their art survived, it is now a footnote in history,” he said. “Other artists quickly established their talent, supported by great and generous patrons, showcased in museums and books. Their contributions to contemporary art progression of that period secured their fame. The question arises, of others such as Van Gogh who never sold a painting and is one of the most loved and appreciated artists in history.

“All artists need to share their work with the people. A brush stroke on a canvas, a note played on a piano, a poetic verse spoken is in utter darkness until it falls on the eyes and ears of a patron. Art does not exist alone. It will die. Those that love it will keep it alive.”

Some of Calaboyias’ major permanent installations can be seen on the campuses of Juniata College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Grove City College. Other installations can be found in Pittsburgh’s Mellon Park, West Park and on the “North Side.”

One of his most recognized works was a commission for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. He described his sculpture, titled “Tribute,” as one of his most challenging pieces.

“I prepared a small model made from a small brass sheet cut into an arc, and then using play dough, pinched three figures into the cut out spaces. I had reasoned in the presentations of other sculptors’ works viewed by the Olympic Committee of Atlanta, my chances may not have been great,” he said. 

“It was only when I had the opportunity to present my concept with this simple model and explain the symbolism of the history of the Olympics did the committee notice. The committee recessed and, upon returning to the room, announced my model as the winner. This was an unbelievable moment in my life.”

In 1965 a piece of Calaboyias’ work came to Johnstown as part of a recognition for U.S. Steel Chairman Roger Blough. U.S. Steel installed one of Calaboyias’ works at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena and that’s when Calaboyias said that he “came full circle, back to Johnstown.”

“Remembrance” brings him back to Johnstown once again, and the exhibit holds traces of his time spent in Kernville.

“Images in my paintings and sculptures remind me of discarded small objects I would find in the alleys and streets of Conemaugh Borough,” he said. “I would take them home and organize some sort of structure and pretended (as most young children) that it was something of imagination.

“As I recall my life from the time I can remember on the island of Ikaria, we traveled to Africa and back to the island. I never really had a childhood or a home. Arriving in Johnstown at the age of 7 until I graduated, Johnstown was home. My memories are in Johnstown. My friends, family, education, where I worked on weekends, the teenage dances and events, the sports and the multitude of youthful experiences are those that we remember and sometimes long for to relive if only in memories. The theme ‘Remembrance’ is the connection between the now and then.”

He said he’s looking forward to giving viewers an opportunity to connect with his pieces.

“Art exhibits and the artists who prepare works to be exhibited do have a technique, style, theme, medium or message they wish to share with the viewer. I, too, have a technique, style, theme, medium and message: How a visitor perceives the work depends on how much knowledge he knows about the artist. The art is not separated from the life of the artist. What one takes away is what one brings to the exhibit,” he said.

“As an advocate of the arts, a complete understanding acquired through the pursuit of knowledge will open up the pages of history to the inner eye and soul of every person. It is the flip-book of the accomplishments of mankind.”

Calaboyias said he’s thrilled to exhibit his work in Johnstown once again.

“Johnstown did not have an art museum, gallery or art activities. I credit the patrons, supporters and visionaries that have created an empty building into a vibrant and living art center. I am very pleased to be an exhibiting artist in my hometown,” he said.

And now, as an adult, Calaboyias can appreciate the city more than he did when he was a teenager.

“A few years ago, I returned to Johnstown for a day and photographed all the neighborhoods I remembered, plus the Inclined Plane, the steel mills, schools, churches, Main Street and many other landmarks,” he said. “For some reason, I yearned to document through photographs those memories.”

Calaboyias said that it is important to appreciate where you came from.

“We all have ‘roots.’ To not acknowledge your piece of earth is to deny your relative place in time and space,” he said. 
“Who we are, what we are and what have we contributed feeds from the roots we were born. It is inescapable.” 

For more information about this exhibit, visit www.bottleworks.org or call a staff member at 814-535-2020 or 814-536-5399.

Bottle Works and Art Works’ gallery hours are Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Come show support and let his work inspire you,” Rizzo said.