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Peter Powning

  • Pigmented and stained precast concrete, cast bronze and glass, LED lighting
  • 2013
  • 18.3 m w x 4.3 m x 5.5 m
  • 21 Widmer Street, Cinema Tower, Toronto

About the artwork

Peter Powning’s monumental work, Strata, puts the human era in perspective as it evokes a sense of geological time. Imagining what it would be like to take a geological core sample from below the building, Powning draws up earth from the depths, bringing his surreal vision to life through precast, colourful concrete. Embedded in this concrete are layers of bronze relief which he calls “the human era,” and “archaeological crust” which makes reference to artifacts mainly found when excavating on the site. The three distinct stratas therefore loosely represent, from the bottom up, the site’s pre-European history, the post-contact/modern era, and a possible post-human era or a future in which the human footprint is very light. The glass features represent aquifers, bodies of rock and sediment that are completely saturated by water.

Since Strata was chosen to highlight one of the main entrances to Toronto’s Cinema Tower, a space that is often used during TIFF (the Toronto International Film Festival), Powning developed his concept with a movie-set design quality in mind.

About the artist

Upon moving to New Brunswick from the United States in 1970, Peter Powning has made his living as a potter and a sculptor, significantly shaping the craft revival movement in Canada. Although he began his career as a traditional studio potter, Powning’s practice has expanded to include a wide range of mediums, usually occurring in combinations, including glass, cast bronze, stone, ceramics, and steel. His artwork varies in scale from small decorative objects to large sculptural installations, all challenging the viewer to reconsider the object, its form, and its function. Powning is often inspired by the environment which surrounds his rural home on the east coast, instilling his pieces with the sense of calm he feels there. 

Powning’s sculptures have gained international recognition and awards, including the Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Crafts in Canada, which Powning accepted in 2006. His solo exhibition, “Elemental Clay and Glass”, toured Canada for two years, positively impacting his career growth. While his work is displayed in many major museums and collections across Canada, Powning has also designed and produced more than sixteen public art commissions.

Fun facts

  • Peter Powning has been happily married for 52 years to his wife, and best-selling author, Beth Powning. The two have acted as sounding boards for one another over the years and have both been deeply affected by the Canadian east coast landscape in which they chose to live.

Engagement questions

  • How does the theme of this artwork make you think about temporality?