Peter Sowiski and Barbara Rowe:
Inspired and Inspiring
Barbara Rowe and Peter Sowiski
Photo by Kevin Kline
Husband and wife Peter Sowiski, sixty-six, and Barbara Rowe, sixty-three, are athletes, active community and neighborhood organizers, artists, business-owners, gardeners, parents, and teachers.
Sowiski, who retired from teaching eight years ago, does part-time production work for the couple’s custom screen-printing business, Abaca Press. Rowe teaches full-time. They are both involved in efforts to make Buffalo’s Niagara Street corridor more accessible, beautiful, and welcoming for all. They’re also training their young Australian Shepherd, Watson.
Forever Young met them one day in their live-work building near the corner of Niagara and Lafayette streets as they prepared to host a community picnic/cleanup at Broderick Park.
Tell us about your artistic practice individually, and how it combines with the business you share.
Barbara Rowe: In my artwork, I combine printmaking processes including woodcut, intaglio, screen-printing, and digital output. The imagery comes mostly from things near and dear to me, like my concern for social issues, travel, and my gardens.
When I bought an existing screen-printing business, I learned all aspects of the business. It opened up a lot of doors. I apply some of the commercial techniques in my artwork. We are selective about the Abaca Press work, so we have time for other things.
Peter Sowiski: I tend to be a “binge artist.” I keep a catalogue of ideas, and when my time frees up, I can attack. Barbara and I are both trained printmakers, and have a commonality in our thinking. We are similar enough that we can continue to have fun; we work in diverse directions in terms of art, community activities, and the things we do as a couple.
The business is a mom-and pop-type of thing; Barbara deals with the office, technical, and digital sides, and I deal with production. We currently do about a job a week. I also am involved in papermaking. I like that the business spills over into our artwork.
What about your neighborhood activities?
BR: Through the business, we became familiar with this gritty industrial neighborhood, which is on the edge of a residential area. After we purchased this building and moved here in 2006, we became more interested in the character of the neighborhood; its problems and opportunities.
It’s right next to the canal and the river—it’s elevated and you could see the water, which you’d never know because we’re cut off and cars constantly speed down Niagara St. It’s got a historical background. There are also a lot of vacancies. I started getting people together to talk about it. We founded Vision Niagara, and have already received a Better Buffalo Main Street grant.
I’m also interested in preserving green space in general, and specifically in Broderick Park. Next year when the West Ferry bridge is reopened, people will be astonished at how beautiful it is.
PS: The area is an unpolished gem. We’d like to calm traffic, make it nicer for bicyclists, and eventually more approachable for everyone. I deal with nuts and bolts, immediate landscaping.
I’ve come to realize that my interest is primarily aesthetic. We run along the paths on Unity and Bird Islands—we are both involved with Broderick Park; some people know about it in terms of its historical importance and convenience, but a lot don’t. It could be so much nicer.
You are both runners and are very active…
BR: I’ve stepped up my physical activity; that’s opened up another whole world. I’ve now run ten marathons. As you get older it gets harder; you get injuries, and your body slows down. I talk with athletes of all ages; we share information. I’m inspired at races when I see people in their eighties who’ve finished first in their age group.
PS: It’s really important to be physically active. I consider myself a four-faceted person: artist, husband/father, motorcyclist, and runner. Maintenance of good physical condition and health requires diligence. I was involved in sports through high school and college, then a bit of a lapse, and then picked it back up.
How would you sum things up now?
BR: Life is always evolving. I like planning and thinking about what’s next. I do get overwhelmed; I probably do too much and have to narrow it down. A lot of my friends are retired. Some of them aren’t sure what they’re going to do. I can’t wait to have that time! I enjoy teaching and being around young people. Recently they were telling me about some new social media thing...I like having an ear to that.
PS: Family is a daily presence. We are fairly lucky with our kids. I think they are really impressive. We know what’s going on with them and they certainly know what’s going on with us.
I primarily do the things I do for myself; I want to be pleased with what I’m seeing. This is very related to the way I make my own art—if I don’t do it, I don’t get to see what it looks like. All of the projects and activities feed a continual loop of self-feedback and improvement.
Jana Eisenberg, a frequent Forever Young contributor, is a Buffalo-based writer and editor.