Robert James Gehrke, 68, of Eau Claire and Cornell, passed away unexpectedly at his home.
Bob was born in Eau Claire to Paul and Betty (Kramschuster) Gehrke on November 9, 1950. He grew up on Eau Claire’s west side and graduated from Eau Claire Memorial High School in 1968. He earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1973 and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Cincinnati in 1975.
Bob was a well-respected local artist who worked in a variety of mediums, with an emphasis in sculpture, painting, and woodworking. He operated his own bronze casting foundry for over 40 years. He created several private and public art commissions, and many of his pieces are displayed in and around Eau Claire. Some of the most notable are Woodland Counterpoint on the UW-Eau Claire campus, Woodland Spire on the UW-Stout campus, and the statue of St. Raymond of Penafort for St. Raymond’s Catholic Church in rural Fall Creek. Several of his pieces are also on display at the Marshfield Cancer Center and Hospital. In addition, Bob used his woodworking skills to create one-of-a-kind twist spin tops, which he called his “longtime obsession”.
Bob’s work drew acclaim both regionally and nationally, with commissions stretching from Bend, Oregon, to Bangor, Maine, including a large interactive wall relief commissioned for the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault, Minnesota. Many private collections also proudly display Bob’s immense talent.
What better way to sum up the artist’s work than his own words: “Inspiration for my art usually begins with a vague idea. A walk, a story, a found object or a piece of wood may engage my imagination. River stones, bones, stars, leaves, birds, butterflies, postcards, and historic photos all hold mystery.”
Bob married Juelie Sires in May 1997, and they made their home on Eau Claire’s east side in a home that, unbeknownst to them at the time of purchase, had been built by Juelie’s grandfather as his residence.
Bob is survived by his wife, Juelie; two sisters, Paula (Gary) Thompson of Eau Claire and Karen (Paul) Holverson of Ottawa, Ill.; brother, Pete (Carol) of Amherst, Wis., sister-in-law, Connie (Jim) Iverson of Eau Claire; and brother-in-law, Don Pierce of Eau Claire, as well as many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.
He is further survived by two aunts, Marjorie (Robert) Lee of Siren, Wis., and Mona Ottoson of Springfield, Va., and one uncle, Dale Hight, of Oconomowoc, Wis., as well as many cousins.
He was preceded in death by his parents; aunts and uncles Louise Hight, Jean and Frank Shadewald, and Harold Ottoson; two cousins, Tim Hight and Sue Soderberg; and sister-in-law Carol Pierce.
Bob was an avid lover of dogs and always had canine companions who brought joy to his life, including his current dogs Walter and Emma. In honor of Bob, the family prefers memorials be directed to the Eau Claire County Humane Association.
A gathering of friends and family to celebrate Bob’s life will be held May 18th at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Eau Claire from 1:30-4:30 pm.