By Joseph Massaro:
On a bright afternoon, Peter Gewerz, aka “Pierre Larue,” 71, reflects on his life while sitting at his kitchen table wearing his unique gold-painted boots, sporting a typical bandanna with a peacock feather sticking out, and an aged denim jacket with the biblical verse: “Before Abraham was, I AM,” patched on his back. From this description, you might see an old grizzled spiritual hippie who doesn’t believe in the internet and was maybe once a hippie. But that archetype couldn’t have been more wrong. What makes Gewerz attracting is not only his style, but his distinct personality by carrying a holy and freewheeling spirit.
Gewerz was born in 1947 in Munich, Germany—a time where creativity was crushed by the Iron Curtain—a non-boundary line that once divided the country. Gewerz would spend much of his childhood in Munich, but this divided line didn’t stop Gewerz, especially since he had an unconstrained soul as a kid, like he still does today. Even though he says he was quite disciplined as a child, especially growing up in a different country, he would still wander around searching for adventure and enjoyment by himself, since he had no brothers or sisters.
“In the mid-fifties, I would dress up sometimes as a clown or whatever, and wander the streets of Munich just having a ball,” Gewerz said. “People responded positively to that and I like that because I am a real people person and I know those were tough times for many people.”
When wandering, Gewerz would go through the universities and never once got stopped even if dressed up, and he once even went through the Alte Pinakothek, a famous and historical art museum located in Munich. When looking up and staring at the Old Master paintings and rain bronze sculptures that were worth millions of dollars, Gewerz became truly captivated by the art.
“Nobody would ever ask me: ‘where are your parents?,'” Gewerz said. “The artwork I would see all over the city with stuff from the Middle Ages combined with Modern art, was just fascinating.”
In 1957, Gewerz and his parents hopped on a boat and move to the states, landing in Rochester, NY. Before coming to the America, Gewerz believed the country embraced the living of something you would see on a classic western series you’d see from TV Land.
“I assumed it would be all cowboys and Indians when coming here,” Gewerz said. “Especially when seeing a lot of John Wayne films and television shows like The Lone Ranger and from the United States during my childhood.”
When coming to America, Gewerz couldn’t speak English at all. He was placed in a Catholic School and placed back in the third grade, after he was already in the fifth grade before moving here. His teachers didn’t want to move him, thus his parents took him out and eventually placed him in a public school at East High and later, East Irondequoit Central School District, where he was in the same class as Armand Schaubroeck, co-owner of the House of Guitars. From the help of being with his classmates, Gewerz would eventually catch onto the language quickly unlike when he was at a Catholic School.
Spending much of his adolescence in the sixties, Gewerz would encounter many serious issues and social movements involving the protest of the military draft during the Vietnam War and the counter-culture movement. However, considering Gewerz was still relatively new to the country, he didn’t understand much of what was happening.
“It was a lot of fun growing up in the sixties. There was a lot of openness, which crossed over with a lot of artwork, but I wasn’t against what many of my peers were doing, but I just didn’t understand it,” Gewerz said. “At the time, I felt very grateful and privileged to be in this country and I saw all this freedom here.”
Gewerz would never graduate from high school. His parents got divorced in the early sixties which made it difficult for Gewerz to focus in school. He would end up working countless jobs that served as a distraction to his parents’ divorce, from flipping burgers to being a busboy to working at Sibleys. Gewerz says he probably would have finished school if his parents never divorced.
In the late-sixties, Gewerz would end up getting married to his wife, who he has been with for 52 years. At this time, Gewerz was a Catholic and he believes God brought him and his wife together.
“My wife, who I’m married to now had had a dream. She saw the guy she’s going to marry, but she didn’t see the face. And when I finally introduced myself to her, we had a cup of coffee at her house and talked for about half an hour. And after I left off, she turns around to her mother and said, ‘That’s the guy that I’m going to marry.’ What’s the chance of that?,” Gewerz said. “I give God all the credit. He pieced and held it together.”
Sometime after his marriage, Gewerz would change his religion and become a born-again Christian. When Gewerz would try to present his personal problems to various priests in the Catholic church, he would never have any luck and none of them were supportive for him. According to Gewerz, a priest once told him he was excommunicated from the church. This placed Gewerz in a very dark place, but he started reading The Bible once again and began to truly understand it now by “the grace of God.”
Outside his current home in Kent, Orleans County, where he lives with his wife and four Maltese dogs, Gewerz would eventually create his own imaginative world, where he would implement much of his spiritual and religious beliefs into his work.
He has crafted all various types of sculptures and site-specific pieces over the years, from carving trees to creating walking sticks, which you can see him using a different one every time he goes out. The idea in crafting his own canes derived from a trip to the Adirondacks, where he would invite his friends to an incorporated ministry. Knowing before he and his friends would walk the trails, he made them all particular walking sticks, that resemble a folk art appeal, with scriptures written on each one of them.
“The thing there that works so beautifully on these sticks at that time and even today is that if you hand somebody, let’s say a track about Jesus Christ. And it turns a person off and they say, ‘No, thank you.’ Well those doors are closed. You don’t force it on anybody,” Gewerz said. “But if you put the message on a colorful hand-crafted stick, people are always interested. They’ll read that stick and a seed is planted. And that’s in my heart. That’s what God wanted me to do.”
Not all of Gewerz’s work has been appreciated over the years. Last summer, he entered in a float in the Village of Holley’s June Fest Parade that became controversial. Gewerz crafts a particular sculpture he refers to as a “treehugger,” which he makes out of scrap wood topped with doll heads. For some of them, he also sometimes spray paints the doll heads brown so they will resemble the color of a tree. However, one of these “treehuggers” that was spray painted brown appeared on his float hanging by a wire on a tree to stay in place so it didn’t blow away. Of course, this made some interpret it as “racist,” but Gewerz has never had any trouble in the past when entering his floats and was clueless when journalists showed up at his house.
“That was the furthest thing from my mind when I did that,” Gewerz said. “I’m a Christian and second, I am an artist. I painted it brown because of the color of the tree. It’s the way trees are. I could have left it natural, but I figured it would look more real as brown.”
Gewerz tries to sell his art when he can, but on the first Friday of every month, he brings some of his pieces to his friend Nancy Coon’s art gallery at the historic Hungerford Building in Rochester. Coon is a lover of Gewerz’s work, but she first met Gewerz in a peculiar way. She couldn’t believe what she saw when she noticed Gewerz sitting in his convertible car parked at Magnolia’s on Park Ave. She described seeing Gewerz wearing his “famous” gold boots and sort of resembling Jerry Garcia. Since then, she’s been honored with Gewerz showing his art in her space at the Hungerford.
“I love how imaginative and different his art is,” Coons said. “He would definitely draw up a crowd at the Hungerford and sometimes when he wouldn’t be able to make it on certain Friday’s, everybody would ask ‘Where’s Peter?’ He developed a following and I appreciate the way he truly expresses himself.”
Even though some may describe Gewerz’s lifestyle as eccentric or unusual, but like Coons said above, he is just being himself.
“I love making people smile wherever I go,” Gewerz said. I believe some people are afraid of expressing who they really are, but they should really start embracing it and be free.”