It is a rare but wonderful thing when a young person knows with certainty his vocational path, but even more so when the varied circumstances of life line up perfectly to nourish and support him toward that goal. For Gabe Tetrev, life in Oak Park, Illinois set the stage for this accomplished young potter, barely into his 20s and already the owner of a storefront studio, GPTetrev Pottery on S. Oak Park Avenue.
Oak Park, home to noted 20th-century architect Frank Lloyd Wright, is a Chicago suburb that is vitalized by creativity. At least nine pottery studios dot the streets of it its business district, along with dozens of galleries. Immersed in this cocoon of creativity, Gabe Tetrev grew up in the home of artists. His father is an accomplished cabinet maker and woodworker; his mother is a fine arts collections cataloguer. When their son expressed interest in pottery, they provided the resources to encourage him. He attended Oak Park’s River Forest High School, which has extensive arts programs, including wheel throwing and sculpture.
Tetrev says, “Oak Park’s amazing pottery program, led by Pennie Ebsen, confirmed for me that I would be a potter. I spent four to five hours every day of high school throwing pots. I used every free minute in the studio and stayed as late as I could after school.” The high school presents its own Empty Bowls project every year, involving the entire student body, as a charitable teaching experience. “We would throw over 2,000 bowls for the project every year,” Tetrev recalls, “and in the process, I found that the repetitive motion of throwing really appeals to me.”
An independent and self-motivated student, Tetrev looked for a college experience that would allow him to develop his skills as a potter on his own terms. He found Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and spoke with faculty there who were hoping to develop and expand their art program into pottery and ceramics. Tetrev looked forward to becoming an integral part of that plan and headed east to college. He encountered his first major disappointment there, realizing there was a lack of resources and intention. So fixed was he on his life plan, he wasted no time and withdrew after the first month of his freshman year. He returned home to Oak Park and set up a studio in his grandmother’s basement. “I approached it with determination and spent a year and a half compulsively making,” he explains. Always supportive, his parents endorsed his decision. His father built him a wooden treadle wheel, patterned after instructions Tetrev found online.
Tetrev is inspired by his muse, Warren MacKenzie, the champion of utilitarianism in pottery. “I share his philosophy,” he says. “I want to make functional pottery for people to use every day in their homes. It enhances their lives, elevating the mundane experience of eating and drinking.” He throws all his work, using Standard’s red clay with grog (108) and English porcelain (365).
After his months of “compulsive making,” he found himself with hundreds of cups and bowls. “I tried for a while,” he says, “to sell online, but found it difficult.” noticed an empty storefront on Oak Park Avenue and turned to his parents for advice and help. Capitalizing on the neighborhood’s cultural vibe, he rented the space, set up a business plan under his father’s guidance, and opened his own studio and shop. “I set up the wooden treadle wheel right in the front window. I throw there all day, and it brings in customers,” he says. Central to his utilitarian philosophy is making his pieces affordable. “Almost everything is in the $20 range,” he says.
One day, the owner of a local coffee shop just down the street came into Tetrev’s shop and said she would like her customers to drink her coffee from handmade cups. She placed an order, launching Tetrev’s move into commissioned work. “I’ve made plates for the local Moroccan restaurant,” he says. “The commissions just come in. It’s a testament to the utilitarianism philosophy – people want to elevate their dining experiences.”
Ceramic Supply Chicago will host Gabe Tetrev on December 8 at its Saturday Local Artist Series. He plans to talk about his experience and philosophy while he demonstrates at the wheel. He jokes, “I’m used to people watching me work. I can almost do it eyes-closed, so I’ll be able to talk!” Stop by between 10 and 3 and see what this stellar young artist has to show.
Or, visit Tetrev’s studio and shop, at
159 South Oak Park Avenue
Oak Park IL 60302
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