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The Man Who Sent Rock to the Rockies
The Arist and His Work - Shell engineer by day, Bruce Gerus, P.Eng., has artistic pursuits to keep him busy when he's not at work.
You can carry coals to Newcastle. Or, if you're Bruce
Gerus, P.Eng., you might want to ship rock to the Rockies. That would
be 1,500 lb. of beautiful Cape Breton limestone. The APEGGA member, a
part-time glassblower, sculptor and musician, made the shipment to his
hometown of Calgary, where he's director of technology and asset integrity
with Shell Canada Limited.
Mr. Gerus is one of many APEGGA members with an artistic sideline, some of whom will display their work during this year's Annual General Conference, April 25-27 at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton. See the advertisement on Page 3 for information on how to register your submissions.
"I noticed beautiful green-grey limestone being used as rip-wrap on a beach in Cape Breton," Mr. Gerus recalls. "I went to the quarry where it was mined and loaded up my buddy's van with pieces as big as I could lift."
The man at the shipping desk was bemused. "Isn't Calgary by the Rocky Mountains?"
"Yes, but they're not green," the 51-year-old Mr. Gerus quipped.
"Hey, Joe! Come out here and see this crazy Albertan. He wants to ship rock to the Rockies!"
Crazy? More like dedicated. The arts, in fact, blend well with an engineering career, Mr. Gerus has discovered. "As an engineer, you often have to visualize 3-D objects, and obviously there's the drafting training as well. This helps me visualize what I want to sculpt out of an irregular lump of rock, as well as what I want a glass piece to look like. Engineering is a precise science and I am very particular about my work. I may take hours to sand and polish out the slightest scratch or bruise on my sculptures."
Creating a Balanced Life
The work is different enough from engineering, however, that it helps keep Mr. Gerus happy. "My central philosophy is that you need to have balance to be happy and successful. My artistic pursuits, in conjunction with my 'logical' engineering job, help develop both sides of my brain. This provides good balance in my life and helps me look at all sides of an issue from several viewpoints. It makes me more open-minded as well as creative. And it relieves stress."
He encourages other APEGGA professionals to find out for themselves. Take a course in art or music (Mr. Gerus plays keyboards, by the way), even if you don't think you're so inclined. "Take a chance. Try something new. I know you'll enjoy it."
There's a pragmatic bonus to combining art with a solid career: the good salary comes in handy. Mr. Gerus breaks even or loses a little on his hobby, and the up-front cash can be substantial. A four-inch diamond cup wheel for his angle grinder costs about $250. "Stone can be very expensive, up to $10 a pound, so it is kind of nerve-wracking when you first take the chisel and start hammering on a rock that just cost you $1,000." Building a glass studio could easily run an artist $30,000. Understandably, Mr. Gerus rents space in a Calgary studio.
Still, it was concern for his pocketbook that led Mr. Gerus to sculpting. (Glassblowing started when his wife signed him up for a beginner's class at Alberta College of Art). Mr. Gerus wanted a musk ox sculpture carved from soapstone, but a tiny Inuit one cost $4,000. "Being a frugal engineer and full of confidence, I said I'd just carve one for myself. And I did. That led to a lifetime focus on sculpting."
Yet making money on his creations isn't important to Mr. Gerus. "I usually like what I produce so very much, I find it hard to part with my pieces. I know this may not make sense from a business perspective, but I am not in it for the money."
Shark's Tooth Surprise
All told, he's sculpted about 50 pieces, both abstract and representational. "I like to transform the rough opaque surface of the rock to smooth flowing forms that the viewer is compelled to touch as well as look at. Consequently, I spend many hours hand-finishing my pieces to an ultra-smooth texture."
That finish work brings out the natural and beautiful colours of the stones. Sometimes it even reveals a surprise. For a piece of Rundle limestone, Mr. Gerus was following the usual routine: 600-grit wet emery, followed by 1,000- and 3,000-grit diamond or tin oxide powder paste. On the surface appeared a shark's tooth fossil.
The sculptures cover a range of sizes, from a palm-sized dendritic talc piece -- a creamy white
stone with fine black strands of another mineral running through it -- up to a sandstone piece one metre by one metre by half a metre. Mr. Gerus usually carves pieces he can lift, 100 lb. or smaller. He's worked with soapstone, alabaster, limestone, marble, sandstone, granite, jet (a Kentucky vitrified coal) and even Hawaiian monkeypod wood.
When it comes to glasswork, Mr. Gerus hasn't kept track of his output. He can tell you, however, that the works tend to be very colourful. The most distinctive works are probably his large bowls and "multi-component pieces," or large bowls on stands.
The roots for these creations are lodged in the artist's childhood. "I've really been an artist all my life. I started drawing as a kid. In the mid-1970s, I did some sculpting when I was working with a ceramics specialist in Houston for Shell Development Research - I carved some firebricks. Then marriage, kids, career and sports left little time for art for many years." In about 1992, however, he started finding the time.
Much of the work he gives away as gifts for friends and family, or donations to the City of Calgary or to charities. In Nat Christie Park, near the 14th Street Bridge in Calgary, is the large sandstone piece Mr. Gerus donated to the city. That work earned him a third-place prize in the Stone Sculptor's Guild of North America Calgary Sculpture Competition. About 12 sculptors competed, most of them professional, and the winner was a master sculptor from Hong Kong who now lives in Calgary.
A Carerra marble piece sculpted by Mr. Gerus was selected as a retirement gift for the past president of the University of Calgary, so it's now part of the Nickel Arts Museum collection. A number of other creations are held in private collections in Canada, the U.S. and Australia. Mr. Gerus has had one solo glass art show and one solo glass and sculpture show. He's participated in several group art shows. And last spring, he combined his larger glass works with his wife's paintings for a show at Master's Gallery in Calgary.
Wife Catherine is, in fact, a full-time artist. And art is big in the rest of the Gerus family, too. Sons Brydon, 19, and Calvin, 17, and daughter Kendal, 15, are "all excellent artists in their own right," Mr. Gerus says.