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Natural Expression: Earth Day takes artistic form at Vivi on Verbeke

The exterior of Vivi on Verbeke in Harrisburg

With Earth Day this week and spring’s return in full bloom, I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate Mother Earth than at Vivi on Verbeke, where I spent part of Friday’s 3rd in the Burg.

The vibrant panoply of color adorning the ceramic pottery hanging, floating and residing window-side is just a preview of what lies beyond the threshold. The window display promises pottery and lots of it.

Upon entering Vivi on Verbeke, I could almost project myself back to 1970 and the first Earth Day celebration. The soundtrack playing in my head was Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.” Can there really be a pottery gallery that is more down to earth?

And then there is the legend of Vivi—short for Vivian Sterste, the proprietress. If Mother Earth inhabited human form, it just may be Vivi herself. Part hippie, part celestial being, Vivi is 100-percent connected to one of the oldest art forms known to man. Like snowflakes, no two pots are exactly the same. Perhaps similar but the proof is in the details, and that lies in the hands of the artist. Vivian’s hands guide the novice to the advanced potter in creating vessels that are as unique as the individuals at the wheel.

One feels instantly at ease in the down home gallery, outfitted with two well-loved sofas adorned with vintage quilts. A Southwest corner is reminiscent of a Georgia O’Keefe painting of a bleached cow skull at her ranch in Abiquiú, N.M.

Vivi’s partner in all things is Jackson “Jeb” Boyd, a bearded and brilliant man. A bon vivant alchemist, Jeb is responsible for all the photography and sculpture adorning the gallery. Judging by appearance, he could very well be Father Time. So, pairing up Mother Earth with Father Time, one can feel that Haight Ashbury, ‘60s-era of love permeating the atmosphere at 258 Verbeke St. Time stands still and in a very cool way.

It actually points to a partnership well ahead of the curve. In operation since January 2013, Vivi on Verbeke is visually arresting in its array of art. The major room features exposed brick and stucco. From the main course of pottery, there is a gallery full of paintings—from the sublime to the surreal. Photography encompasses a love of abandoned-ness and artistic adventures, and sculpture defies labels. Of particular interest is a copper-encrusted, rusted dinosaur that “phlew” in from the Mesozoic Era and rakishly roosted on a table frozen in time. Jeb refers to it as Ptery the Pteradactyl. The basement houses the space for clay enthusiasts with wheels for throwing, a kiln for firing, and a pugmill—a device that saves the remnants of unused clay and reconstitutes the material to a workable substance.

By definition, the word “vivify” means to endow with life, and even though pots are inanimate objects, Vivi’s vision is such that she animates an otherwise everyday object with vibrancy and imbues it with a unique personality. This passion is reflected in commitment to her art.

In an era of homogenized products cranked out by rote, it is refreshing to handle objects d’art that are lovingly crafted by hand. Every last item gallery-wide is created either by Vivian or Jeb, offering testament to their partnership in love and carriage (trade). These are two creative artists, each highly skilled in their fields of passion, complementing the other in the very best way.

I am sure by now that you have figured out a certain fascination for words starting with the letter “V.” So, here’s another one—variety. Vessels, sculptures, paintings and photography abound at Vivi on Verbeke. Vow to visit Vivi and celebrate Earth Day, no matter the month or date.

Vivi on Verbeke is located at 258 Verbeke St., Harrisburg. To see more of her creations and for more information, visit her Facebook page.

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