With his retirement, Terry Gieber leaves a legacy as lasting as the pottery he’s created.
Growing up in Kansas, Gieber said he and his friends would play cowboys and Indians. His mother, a strong advocate for education, influenced Gieber to check out books from the library about cowboys and the Native Americans who lived in Kansas. He said he became interested in ceramics when he saw pictures of Pueblo pottery in the books.
“I thought it was the most amazing stuff I had ever seen,” he said.
At age 9, Gieber dug his own clay from the creek and learned how to refine, build and fire it into his own pots. He quit pottery as a result of his growing interest in go-carts and didn’t seriously pick up the craft again until later in life.
He had no real formal training until college, except for one high school art class he got kicked out of. Because he never had the opportunity to study art when he was younger, Gieber knew that’s what he wanted to do in college so he took up drawing and sculpture, he said.
Gieber was drafted for the Vietnam War and was stationed in Worms, Germany. He rediscovered pottery while in Worms after visiting a ceramics exhibition.
“It was those incredible pots that I saw in Germany that brought be back to clay,” Gieber said. He was about 30 years old at the time.
More than just making art, Gieber enjoys the chemistry that goes into clay.
“The more I learned, the more I loved it,” he said. “I love the science of it, not just the making of objects.”
After moving to Spokane with his wife, Gieber began teaching at Gonzaga. This year he is finishing 31 years of teaching. Gieber has seen the students, faculty and students change during his time here. In his early years at Gonzaga, Gieber taught classes in a small building that was behind Madonna Hall, he said.
“The glaze would freeze on the floor in the winter, because the building had such bad heat,” he said. Though his 31 years are relatively short, Gieber likes the idea that his art is eternal.
Gieber’s students study both the physical process of creating pottery, but also the chemical process. When found in nature, clay is malleable, but through heat and time, a piece of clay that has been fired will take at least 10,000 years before it will be reclaimed by nature, Gieber explained. “I like the idea of being around for 10,000 years,” he said.
This sense of time and nature is present in all the work he does. The works in Gieber’s collection, “All have something to do with the creative process of nature,” he said.
Allusions to plowed ground, water, nests, tornadoes and topography can be found in Gieber’s work. Even the uneven rims of his bowls allude to rise and fall of the horizon.
Along with the physically lasting impact of his work, Gieber has left his legacy in the lessons shared with his students.
“He [has] a great intensity about him,” Associate Professor of Art at Utah State University and GU alumnus Dan Murphy said. Murphy, whose ceramic work has been shown in 55 national exhibitions, first learned how to fire ceramics in wood-burning kilns from Gieber.
Murphy explained that the extra time Gieber spent outside of class working with students challenged him to do better in his own work.
“He instilled that questioning in me,” Murphy said.
Murphy not only learned how to create pottery, but the science behind ceramics that is so important to Gieber.
“[There are some] universal qualities of ceramics that can stand the test of time,” Murphy said.
Sophomore Brooke Bonner is taking her second ceramics class this semester and has enjoyed taking classes from Gieber.
“It’s always great to have one of those professors you connect with and have fun with, but at the same time you know you’re learning [from],” Bonner said. “He teaches you a lot, but at the same time, it’s very enjoyable.”