Whirligigs: The Art of Peter Gelker

Whirligigs: The Art of Peter Gelker


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Whirligigs: The Art of Peter Gelker by Lynn Gamwell

A breeze blows, a wheel turns, a soldier springs to life and spears a giant spider. Such fanciful woodcarvings are in the American Folk Art tradition of whirligigs, which is continued today by Peter Gelker in his twirling figures in the throws of myths, dreams, and nightmares. Gelker was introduced to whirligigs by his father, a machinist, who learned to carve growing up in the Depression-era Midwest near the Ozarks. Gelker left rural life and manual labor for an academic life in California, where he enrolled in medical school and studied psychiatry. But his rural roots kept sprouting and flowering in his passion for crafting metaphors for the human mind—and its neurological substrate—which he encountered on his day-job. Thus Gelker senior passed a Folk Art tradition on to his son, who makes serious toys for a mad-cap world.

Whirligigs have a place in the history of psychiatry, in which Gelker holds an M.D., and psychoanalysis, in which he is certified. Sigmund Freud recognized that people use jokes to inflict pain (he collected “Jewish jokes”), but Freud also stressed the healing power of humor (The Joke and its Relation to the Unconscious, 1905). While being careful not to trivialize suffering, the creator of a comic antic encourages us to not take our troubles too seriously, makes us laugh, and helps us to see through to a brighter day. The role of toys and games in child development began being studied in the 1930s-40s by the Austrian analyst Melanie Klein, and after World War II, her student, the British pediatrician Donald Winnicott, expanded her work to include toys for adults (sports cars, designer clothes), in so-called object relations psychotherapy. Following this lead, today mental health professionals ask: Why do we collect certain objects? How do games of make-believe help us navigate our way through the labyrinth of life? Why do so many people find comfort in Folk Art? Why do Peter Gelker’s whirligigs make us smile?

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780935314946
Publisher: California State University, Fullerton, Visual Arts Center
Publication date: 01/01/2015
Pages: 84
Product dimensions: 10.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Lynn Gamwell, Ph. D., has organized interdisciplinary projects linking art and psychology include the exhibition of Sigmund Freud’s personal art collection that was shown at the Jewish Museum in New York, Sigmund Freud and Art (Harry N. Abrams, 1989). She also curated the exhibition Dreams: Art, Science, and the Unconscious Mind (Cornell University Press, 2000), which was shown at the Historisches Museum der Stadt, Vienna; for her catalogue essay she was awarded the Gradiva Prize (for “Best Historical Writing”) by the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.

Simon Bronner, Ph.D., specializes in the study of the human emotions, perceptions, and motivations that underlie the creation of Folklore. A graduate of the Folklore Institute of Indiana University, Bronner is author of The Carver’s Art: Crafting Meaning from Wood (University Press of Kentucky, 1996), a study of the psychological meaning of woodcarving within the lives of four elder woodcarvers in rural Indiana. In 2011 Bronner was named editor of the leading reference work on American Folklore, the Encyclopedia of American Studies.

Mike McGee is currently director of the Lee and Nicholas Begovich Gallery and a professor of art at Cal State Fullerton University where he heads the museum studies/exhibition design graduate program. He has worked as an art writer, curator, and arts administrator since 1982. He has organized and written essays for more than two hundred exhibitions and accompanying pubications working with artists such as Don Bachardy, Tony DeLap, Paul McCarthy, Mark Ryden, Kenny Scharf, and Robert Williams. He is founder of both the Cal State Fullerton Grand Central Art Center in downtown Santa Ana, Ca.

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