Peter Woytuk '80

Acclaimed artist Peter Woytuk '80 creates world-class animal sculptures

What comes from being the greatest animal sculptor in the world? According to Peter Woytuk '80, upon whom such accolades have been bestowed, it doesn't amount to much but a red face.

While it's not a title the modest artist embraces, ever since the International Herald Tribune dubbed Woytuk "the greatest animal sculptor in the Western world in the closing years of the twentieth century," it's a title that's begun to stick.

"It's really embarrassing," says Woytuk. "That slogan is something the art dealers like to promote. I don't think I'm in the same league as other very exquisite animal sculptors."

Titles and dealers aside, Kenyon embraced one of its own when Woytuk returned to campus this fall to display his work in an Olin Art Gallery exhibit entitled "Recent Sculpture."

During his most recent visit to the College, Woytuk was setting up his third show in as many weeks and preparing for a trip to China. After a lecture for students, Woytuk appeared slightly frazzled, but he was warm and gracious nonetheless. Dressed in jeans, with a few strands of gray peppering his curly brown hair, the artist-who will soon leave his pastoral existence on a fifty-acre homestead near Amenia, New York, in a self-built environmentally friendly house, to renovate a twelve-thousand-square-foot barn in Kent, Connecticut-doesn't evidence even a hint of pretension about his acclaim as an artist.

While Woytuk has worked steadily as a sculptor since leaving Kenyon, it's only in the past eight years that his career has taken off, with such high-profile projects as four life-size African elephants for the North Carolina Zoological Park, a commission he won over many competitors. The bronze sculptures were cast at a facility in Shanghai, China, one of the only places in the world able to produce the pieces in a single pouring.

Outside the structure of his studio, Woytuk says he spends a lot of time moving his sculptures to and from exhibits such as his showing at the College. The Olin show included bronze turkeys, his signature ravens, and a striking display of several dozen rats, which, according to Woytuk, provoke either a "love it" or "hate it" response from the public. Also included in the exhibit were three wooden hens he sculpted for his senior show at Kenyon. The hens now belong to Professor of Art Barry Gunderson, with whom Woytuk worked while a student at the College.

"Even then, Peter was showing a distinctive way of working with wood and steel. I wanted those hens because I'm always on the hunt for beautiful objects to add to my collection," says Gunderson of his acquisition.

Upon seeing Woytuk's work, one immediately understands his popularity as a sculptor. "Peter has the ability to transform an animal form into something that's accurate, truthful, and beautiful," says Gunderson. "That's certainly a special set of skills."

Like many artists, Woytuk wasn't an overnight sensation fresh out of college. "I was forced to start at the bottom rung," he says of the early days of his career, when he held an apprenticeship with Phillip Grausman, a Connecticut sculptor who is famed for his portrait work. "My work with Phil allowed me to focus on my sculpture and not get sidetracked. It was then that the metamorphosis of an idea, taking it through all of the necessary steps, began to click with me."

For the first few years of his career, Woytuk- who has an eleven-year-old son, Nicolas, who wants to be a sculptor when he grows up-worked steadily as a sculptor, but he had to supplement his income with work as a carpenter. For the past eight years, he's made his career solely as a sculptor, and he says he now has more business than he can manage, even with a team of assistants to help with production.

While Woytuk's focus as a Kenyon student was centered more on photography than sculpture, he says his interest in animal sculpture was sparked by the rural environment of Gambier. To this day, however, he doesn't really consider himself purely an animal sculptor. Perhaps that's because his work is about so much more than animals. "He uses animals to say other things," says Gunderson. "His work is rich with symbolism, existing in many layers. It's just about the animals for some of the viewers, but that's okay. That's what makes it art."

Like many artists, Woytuk worries about what will happen if the economy falters, since art buying is one of the first things to suffer. But for now, he's content with his work and has no plans for what he might do in retirement. "I don't really see an end to this," he says.


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