UPBRINGING AND EARLY EDUCATION
Peter had always been an artist, though it took him until early adulthood to realize it.
Born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1963 to a Danish father and American mother, Peter spent his elementary school years in New York City attending Manhattan Country School. As a child, Peter enjoyed making art, and though he was encouraged in his artmaking (his grandmother gave him his first oil paint set when he was 12 years old), the idea of becoming an artist never crossed his mind. In 8th grade, Peter enrolled at the Dalton School where he frequently took art classes, studying with the likes of Aaron Khurzen. Peter graduated from Dalton in 1981, still not considering himself an artist.
During his freshman year at Williams College, Peter took an introductory art history course and discovered he had a knack for the subject. He decided to become an Art History major. In spring of his sophomore year, taking a basic drawing course as part of his major requirement, Peter unexpectedly found himself in his element: he received an A-plus grade. Though it was too late to change his major, with the encouragement of his professor (Ed Epping), Peter went on to enroll in as many studio courses as his schedule would allow.
In fall of 1983 as a junior, Peter spent a semester abroad in Florence, an experience that proved pivotal. He fell in love with looking at art, traveling each weekend to one Italian city or another to see its cathedrals and art museums. It was then—able to travel wherever he chose to go, fully an agent of his own fate—that he made a monumental realization: he could be what he wanted to be, and he wanted to be an artist.
AN EDUCATION IN ART
By the time Peter graduated from Williams College, he was deep into making art.
Peter took part in the Senior Art Show at the Williams College Museum of Art in spring 1985. Around the same time, he also exhibited at the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as a co-winner of the Bloedel Travel Fellowship, an annual award to a Berkshire County art student.
In 1986 Peter took classes at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago while making plans for graduate school. He continued working on his art, focusing especially on figurative drawing. He was admitted to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) for fall 1987.
Pages from Peter’s sketchbook, 1986.
Peter received his Master in Fine Art degree in 1989. While at MICA, he studied with Babe Shapiro, Sal Scarpitta and Hermine Ford—all mentors modeling art-making as a personal venture of discovery and realization.
During Peter’s first weeks at MICA he began working from self-portraiture, a motif he stayed with for years. During one studio visit, Hermine Ford had made the obvious suggestion to work on “something personal.” Peter could think of nothing more personal than a self-portrait, so he gave himself the assignment of creating 100 24” x 24” charcoal self-portraits. As boredom and desperation led to increasingly surprising resolutions, Peter found himself lost in the best of ways. He was on his way: by spring 1989, Peter’s thesis show traced a two-year progression through self-portraiture, and he knew there was plenty left to explore.
ALONE IN THE STUDIO
After graduate school while raising his young family, Peter’s monthly museum and gallery visits helped him hone his art practice.
After earning his MFA, Peter worked as Gallery Manager of MICA’s Exhibitions Department before becoming an adjunct professor of art at Baltimore-area colleges. Juggling a new young family, part-time jobs, and his studio work, Peter had little time for anything else, though he continued visiting museums and galleries as often as he could. Through those visits he continued his education: he saw a Jacqueline Humphries show with all square paintings, and recognized he wanted to work in that format too; he visited an Ad Reinhardt retrospective, and better understood the power of nuance in painting; he looked at Paul Cézanne’s Large Bathers from the Barnes Collection and marveled at how abstractly the artist painted the figures’ heads.
All the while, Peter continued mining the motif of self-portrait in his studio, his works naturally moving through a genealogy of modernism—from cubism and futurism through abstract expressionism and minimalism, each drawing or painting a battle for resolution.
A TURN TOWARD COMMUNITY
In 1997, Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University) opened a new art center that included a gallery. Peter, who had been working as an adjunct professor at the school since 1992, was named its founding Exhibitions Director.
Having seen hundreds of exhibitions on his monthly gallery trips, he had a clear vision for how to run such a program. The program was a success, garnering such recognition as Baltimore City Paper’s “Top 10” for the year and Baltimore Magazine’s annual “Best of” list that first year.
By this time, Peter had participated in several group exhibitions in the Baltimore area. The experience of showing his art always proved dissatisfying: he felt his work’s intended meaning was lost in poorly considered installations.
That year taught Peter the extent to which art’s placement matters, as well as the role it can play in building community. These two realizations changed his art practice: he went from focusing on creating individual autonomous pieces to prioritizing comprehensive studio projects centered on both the art and the service it offered collaborators and communities.
After leaving Villa Julie College in 1998 and following a six-month stint as Exhibitions Manager for Baltimore’s Contemporary Museum, Peter became founding Exhibitions Educator for The Park School of Baltimore, a position he held until 2005. In that role, he created a gallery program exhibiting student and faculty work alongside pieces by local and national artists. The work at Park informed (and was informed by) Peter’s studio projects at the time, including Anonymous Requiem, Being Seen 1-2-3, It Starts with Family, and Music, Art & Beautiful Things.
IMMERSED IN ART ON PURPOSE
Peter’s creative energy turned fully toward art for advocacy and community-building in 2005.
In 2005, seeking to dovetail his community-oriented curatorial work at Park School and his studio practice, Peter founded the non-profit organization Art on Purpose, dedicated to using art to bring people together around issues and ideas, originally conceived to incorporate his own art. However, within a year his art-making was displaced by the demands of non-studio-based projects such as Real City, Dream City, Maps on Purpose, Everyone an Artist, and Heroes in Our Midst—projects involving multiple artists, communities, and major cultural institutions.
Gratifying as the Art on Purpose work was for Peter, it had entirely eclipsed his art practice. He stepped down as founding director in June 2010.
A RETURN TO THE STUDIO
After seven years mostly away from his studio, Peter was ready to make things again.
Following Peter’s tenure with Art on Purpose he picked up in the studio where he had left off: making work derived from self-portraiture, continuing to unearth new variations from a single motif. At the same time, interested in applying all he had learned about social engagement from his Art on Purpose years to his studio practice, Peter began to host small gatherings in his studio—boutique events with select works of his on the wall, back-drops for performance and sharing on topics related to the art on display; sketches of social engagement possibilities.
During this time (2013) he conceived of his first major post-Art on Purpose studio project, Autumn Leaves—similar to his previous studio projects though grander in scale. By early 2014 had recruited more than 70 participants for the project.
Then, his daughter died.
ART FOR HEALING
Peter fully embraced art for its healing power after the death of his eldest daughter in 2014.
Within hours of learning about his daughter’s death from an accidental overdose, Peter had already begun envisioning drawings he needed to make about his loss.
That was just the beginning.
After completing the Autumn Leaves project in fall 2014, Peter began work on the New Day Campaign, an initiative challenging the stigma of addiction. The success of the Campaign in 2015 attracted national attention, and Peter was invited to speak at several behavioral health conferences and received broad recognition, including a Baltimore City Health Equity Leadership Award from Baltimore City’s Health Commissioner and a commendation from entrepreneur and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, who named him one of 10 national innovators at the 2018 Bloomberg American Health Summit in Washington, D.C.
Around the same time, Peter’s studio practice took a turn: he began making abstract works based figures in relationship to one another rather than self-portraiture. He began this pivot while in residence at Yellow Barn, where the interaction between musicians playing together struck Peter as a powerful metaphor of what it means for humans to need one another.
Peter began working on Beyond Beautiful: One Thousand Love Letters in 2017—a project that culminated in early 2019. At its conclusion and ready for another change, Peter also ended the New Day Campaign.
Peter has found peace and new creative possibilities at his Maine home.
In 2019, Peter moved to Maine, and since then has been making paintings and drawings in various media, all inspired directly by his need to process the loss of his daughter and all that followed. He has ideas on a major studio project in 2024 (the 10th anniversary year of his daughter’s passing), tentatively called First the Crying.
Since 2020, Peter has begun two different digital initiatives. Yarrow & Cleat became a platform for Peter’s writing, something that previously had never before been front and center in his work. Additionally, the online exhibition program Peter has initiated on this website platform permits him to continue his collaborative work in the digital realm.
He has found that long-sought balance between solitary work and community connection—and now his community is no longer limited by geography.
Pages from Peter’s sketchbook, 1986.
INTERESTED IN CONNECTING?
Do you have ideas, thoughts, or questions you’d like to share with Peter? Do you want to introduce yourself and your work to him? Perhaps explore a collaboration or involvement in one of his projects? Then Peter wants to hear from you.