World travel has been a part of Burghilde Gruber’s life from the very start, and as she aged and set out across lands both familiar and unknown, each stop along the way influenced both her life and her art.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Gruber’s family moved to Vienna, Austria, when she was a child. By the time she reached her teenage years, Gruber had adopted a self-taught hobby and form of expression in drawing. At that point, her art was never anything too serious, just something she had fun doing.
As she aged, art remained a passion, and after meeting and marrying her husband, Bruno, a physicist, she began her whirlwind journey across the globe. In 1963, the couple moved to Dublin, Ireland, and Gruber again took to self-discovery and started dabbling in watercolor art.
Leaving Ireland, the Grubers headed to Naples, Italy, for two years before arriving in the U.S. in 1966. By 1972, they had found their way to Carbondale, and Gruber enrolled at SIU, working toward a bachelor’s degree in art. A number of factors, including a two-year move to Wuerzburg, Germany, would make her educational journey a slow one, but she would earn her degree in 1979.
While in school, Gruber’s artwork changed from watercolors to acrylic designs of primarily architecture. As time passed, she continued her education, both in the classroom and the art studio. She received a Master of Fine Arts from SIU in 1987 and explored even more avenues for her art, combining elements of her early watercolors with her interest in architecture.
Her travels and desire to learn led her to other exotic locales, including La Esmeralda Academy of Arts in Mexico City and the Academy of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad. She also led a lecture series at universities in China and spent four years working at SIU’s sister campus in Niigata, Japan.
“When I traveled, it influenced me, especially with the architecture,” Gruber said. “There’s something you can feel. They have a different philosophy in life, and, somehow, it settled in me, and I reflect that in my art.”
But, Gruber’s world travels have influenced more than the content of her designs; they’ve also influenced her media, as well. She has dabbled in ceramics, which she learned in Japan, and her recent work has turned to created art in the shape of a mandala, a symbol of great significance to those of the Buddhist faith. Another recent venture has been silk painting, creating scarves, no two of which are identical.
And, in a way, all of her work is that way. She never quite has a complete plan in mind when starting on a piece.
“I just start, and often the flow of the watercolor determines where I’m going,” Gruber said.