The Eastern Shore is an opportunity for artist Kevin Garber. It’s an opportunity to be connected to nature, weather, tides, and to create art that speaks to this connection. And it’s an opportunity to fish.
“It’s so visceral here — every day can be different based on the weather. Watching the watermen, who are so tied to natural forces like wind and tide,” Garber said. “I never thought I’d be following the tide like I do. I love to fish and have always fished. I always have a fishing pole in the van. I will stop and do 50 casts somewhere without thinking. There are always opportunities. I like the saying, it’s not how many fish you catch, it’s how many times you can go fishing.”
Garber and his wife Kathy Bosin moved to the Shore in 2008 from St. Louis, Mo., where they’d been for more than 20 years. The idea was to be closer to parents, who lived in Lancaster, Pa., and Lewes, Del. And for Garber, maybe to reinvent himself after two decades creating and teaching art in the city.
Art for Garber began growing up outside of Lancaster, where his uncle Abner Hershberger was a fine art painter, sculptor, and printmaker. Abner was following in the footsteps of his father, Ezra Hershberger, who started the art department at Goshen College in Indiana. When Ezra retired, Abner took over the art department.
Garber got a chance to spend five weeks studying art history with Abner and his students in Florence, Italy, with the actual objects they were studying right in front of them. Garber was already an inspired art student, and that experience brought out a more academic direction in his art. He went to Millersville University in central Pennsylvania and studied under Robert A. Nelson, learning stone lithography.
“Nelson was an incredible draftsperson and stone lithographer,” Garber said. “Stone lithography had been brought back as an art form, through a Ford Foundation grant, and he was one of the guys who was a pioneer and was published in the major stone lithography books. He warned me that, ‘You are either going to be a printer, for other people, or you’re going to be an artist — it’s hard to do both.”
From Millersville, Garber got a teaching scholarship to the University of Nebraska, where he taught and created stone lithography and other forms of printmaking, and then was hired as a master printer by Washington University in St. Louis.
There, he worked with renowned artist and teacher Peter Marcus, who was determined that printmaking would be as big as painting and sculpture in the art scene of the university and the city. As the master printer for Washington University’s Collaborative Print Workshop, Garber worked with dozens of visiting artists from all fields, creating large-scale print editions with the help of students. He recalls the print workshop as a lively, creative ,and collaborative environment — one of the university’s most exciting and dynamic places.
During his time at Washington University and in St. Louis, Garber also opened his own studio, creating large-scale ceramic murals and then, teaming up with a former graduate student, the two became sculptors for hire, doing applied arts for Anheuser Busch and other corporations, and design and architecture firms, including ceramic installations at Discovery Cove in Orlando, Fla.
In his art and in life in St. Louis, Garber was able to create and take on new and epic projects.
“I was able to take risks, to go into sculpture and experience really big three-dimensional pieces, and then leap off and do a ceramic installation at Discovery Cove,” he said. “I took on some fairly large jobs that were risky. We took chances. We would do things just to have the experience of doing them. We kept our passion alive in the making of things.”
In the years following 9/11, Garber and Bosin took stock of their lives and what was important to them. They looked at the fact they had each been away from their parents, for longer than they intended. They looked at coming back to the mid-Altantic, and it was a job on Caretakers Gazette that led them to the Eastern Shore. Life slowed down intentionally, and while working on Emerson Point in the Bay Hundred area, Garber went back to painting watercolors. His thought was to just start making art with and from what he had around him.
“We are observers and we are makers of things that reflect our environment, and being on the Eastern Shore, birds have made more and more sense,” he said. “I have used bird imagery as my muse forever and this area is just so rich with bird life, natural life, it is easy to observe and enjoy their presence. Birds also represent something I am very closely attached to and that is total freedom. I gave up full-time employment, punching a clock and working for someone for my freedom.”
During his time on the Shore, Garber has volunteered in the boat shop of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St. Michaels nd has taught at the Academy Art Museum in Easton. He has shown his work at Tea at the General Store in Royal Oak and Out of the Fire in Easton. He has a number of his works in the Trippe Gallery in Easton.
Among the work Garber shows in the Trippe Gallery are prints of Chesapeake life — sailing, working the water — that come from incredible woodcut blocks of sugar maple created by the father of furniture maker Jim McMartin. The demand for these iconic, black-and-white woodcut prints has been tremendous. Creating different kinds of art and having multiple projects going at the same time suits Garber, for whom art has been a career and his livelihood.
Garber returns to St. Louis frequently, where he has different creative and commercial projects underway. He is prone to wandering and returning, and the contrast of going to the city makes his return to the Shore that much more meaningful, each time.
“Living in a city like St. Louis, and the life we were living, decades just fly by, and I wanted to slow things down,” he said. “Moving to a slower area, it’s more about the seasons — you become part of the seasonal changes. With the seafood industry here, the hunting, the seasons became more of a time-altering thing for me. And now, when I come over the Oak Creek Bridge, I see this incredible view and it feels like home.”