Artist Profile: Peter Dietrich – Mountain Art-is-Tree

Written By: Brian Cooke

Have you ever looked into the clouds and seen figures? If you’re like me, you don’t pause often enough to let those creative juices rise to the surface. For Peter Dietrich, however, it’s all in a day’s work to observe and create using the natural world as both his inspiration and his medium.

Dietrich, artist and owner of Mountain Art-is-tree (8213 Bridge Creek Road, Tiger, GA 30576), has always been both creative and an outdoors person. “It never turned into anything until Uncle Sam sent me on a tour of duty to Germany,” says Dietrich. There he saw German woodcarvers melding the outdoors and art.

After years of work in both New England and Florida, Dietrich landed on a quiet, curvy Rabun County road creating “unique and distinctive mountain art.”

His gallery of more than 120 carvings is, he contends, the largest of any woodcarver around, and includes both big and small carvings depicting foliage, fish, lizards and even dragons. Spirit faces, always emotive and sometimes wild-haired, stand out in the collection. Each piece of wood, he says, has a figure in it, and it’s “the job of the carver to release the spirits from the wood.”

Carving exactly what he believes customers would buy, he asserts, would be using the wood as a blank canvas. Instead, Dietrich takes off into the expansive woods of north Georgia in search of wood that has a spirit in it that he feels he can elicit with his tools. 

“The wood finds me. The wood formulates my day,” explains Dietrich, who prefers using Georgia’s native tree species. Eastern red cedar, in particular, is his favorite wood to work with because carving into it releases multiple vibrant colors.

Every carving is different, requiring a slightly different process based on the size of the piece, the wood type, the figure being carved and even Dietrich’s mood. Oftentimes, however, he starts pieces by blocking the wood with a chainsaw or a hatchet. Finer tools come later in the process. At the end, because many clients hang his artwork outdoors, he coats the wood with four coats of marine-grade spar varnish to protect the piece from weathering. The process can be quick, or it can take much longer than expected simply because it takes time to determine exactly what image is in a piece of wood.

Sometimes customers already have an image in mind for a wood carving in their own home, but Dietrich doesn’t often do commissioned work. His art, he says, is a “flowing process” in which the wood itself leads the way, so it can be difficult to “reach someone’s expectations.” When he does commissioned work, he prefers “absolute creative license” and plenty of time to find the wood that expresses the right image. 

He spent many years traveling the world, working across the United States and even carving at customers’ homes, but he is far more content to be in his studio or the forests outside his back door. “If I had $5 million, I’d still want my shop. I’d want to come here,” Dietrich says.

His love of place is what has stopped Dietrich from moving his studio to Highway 441 or another high-traffic area. He doesn’t attend many art festivals each year, either, and hasn’t frequently shown his work at other galleries. The art, he says, is complemented best by the surroundings of the Georgia mountains from which the wood and inspiration come. That gives art lovers a good reason to see the art in its natural north Georgia habitat.

Dietrich himself recommends visiting Mountain Art-is-tree on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, when you can reliably see him hard at work on new pieces for his already impressive display.

He may be so involved in a new woodcarving that he doesn’t notice you walk in. Take some time to see how he uses the tools. People can see, says Dietrich, the energy that he puts into the wood. Finally, peruse the many carvings, as this is likely the only place you’ll see his work for sale. Grab his attention to hear the unique stories he has about each one-of-a-kind piece and about the piece you’ll inevitably want to take home.   

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