Eastside Culture Crawl opens studio doors

Four-day visual arts, design and crafts festival taking place this weekend

18th Annual Eastside Culture Crawl until Nov. 23. A four-day visual arts, design and crafts festival involving more than 20,000 people visiting artists in their studios in the area bounded by Main Street and Victoria Drive north of First Avenue in Vancouver. For more information visit culturecrawl.ca.

A book sent Peter Pierobon across North America.

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In itself, that isn't so strange. Many wanderers lost themselves on the proud highway after reading vagabond-bait like Jack Kerouac's On the Road. What was unusual about Pierobon's decision to rattle across the continent in a Volkswagen Westfalia van was that his journey was precipitated by a woodworking book.

Pierobon was 19 or 20 when he stepped inside a Lynn Valley bookstore and saw "amazing images" of woodcarvings.

"I really didn't know you could make things like that," he recalls.

The North Vancouver native was studying ceramics at Capilano College but one look at the carvings derailed Pierobon's plans: he was going to make a living with sawdust at his feet.

However, finding a woodworking school willing to accept a pupil who'd never made anything out of wood proved difficult.

"When you're young you do stuff like that and you don't think about the consequences."

He eventually parked his van at a small private school in Rochester, N.Y. The school was run by Wendell Castle.

"He was making pieces that nobody else was making," Pierobon says.

The precision of woodworking was part of the appeal, Pierobon explains. Clay can be stretched and metal can be welded but wood is unforgiving.

"It does take a certain mindset to be able to function well with that medium."

The medium was expanding before Pierobon's eyes as he watched Castle incorporate metal and stone into furniture.

After two years of study, Castle hired Pierobon for a series of projects bound for New York galleries.

It was a good job, it left his weekends free and he was well situated in New York. He stayed for two years to the day.

An artist's job is to take risks and constantly challenge himself, he explains.

"If you keep hitting the bull's eye you're standing too close to the target."

He gave Castle plenty of notice before embarking on his solo career in Toronto.

"By giving everyone fair warning it was coming - I kind of had to follow through."

But Toronto was a tough city for a new artist.

"I didn't have family who tend to buy pieces earlier in your career," he says. "I didn't have contacts in the museum/gallery world - It was a struggle for me."

He applied for a green card and set up shop in Philadelphia.

"If I was going to survive in the field, the place to go was back to the States."

The city of brotherly love was the same size as Toronto but replete with history.

"It also has, not unlike Detroit, this enormous poverty-stricken area that was just full of decrepit housing and impoverished people," he says. "You could hear gunshots, especially in the summertime."

Pierobon has a memory of spending Saturday morning at the farmers market and returning home to find his block barricaded by police.

"There's a chalk outline of a dead body right in front of my own house. Somebody got whacked, basically. It was a mob hit and it happened right there."

He stayed in Philadelphia for 12 years.

"The career stuff was great," he says. "It was the perfect place to be for me at the time because it's halfway between Washington and New York and it's kind of overlooked."

He could drive 90 minutes to an exhibit in Manhattan and sleep in his own bed that night.

Pierobon eventually migrated back to the North Shore in 2001.

The difference between coasts is acute, he notes.

While the East Coast boasts a stronger community of artists, the West Coast has nature.

Some of Pierobon's furniture features stone pieces representing mountains and rounded table legs that reference softened beach logs rolling in the surf.

After skyrocketing rent forced him out of his studio in Lower Lonsdale, Pierobon set up shop in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, making him a perfect candidate for the Eastside Culture Crawl.

Visitors to his workshop will be treated to a sculptural series that weaves fiber optic cable with wood.

Woodcarving is an ancient art, but Pierobon still puts a premium on originality.

"You reach a threshold of what's been done and then to move beyond that you need to do stuff that hasn't been done, so you need to innovate and create new forms."

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