A 2014 project with 49 stories about aging, wisdom, and the meaning of life.
At age 49, Peter found himself thinking more keenly of his daughters’ promising futures than his own. That was new, and felt profound. At the cusp of age 50, he thought about there being no marker for achieving a certain age—a kind of elder status one might associate with gathered wisdom. From that recognition came a sense that there ought to be such a thing and the idea Autumn Leaves was born.
“Area 405 was packed to standing room only with people from all backgrounds, genders, and age groups, from high schoolers to retirees. Clearly, that was part of Bruun’s intent: The lineup of participants for each event seemed carefully calibrated to include people from different walks of life, backgrounds, ages… it occurred to us as we sat amid this rare and beautiful gathering of Baltimoreans that maybe that kind of detailed forethought and planning is what it takes to create a truly diverse Baltimore arts event.”
—Evan Serpick, Baltimore City Paper
While working on a series of self-portrait sketches in 2013 Peter realized he was thinking about turning 50 soon. Halfway through making the drawings, he knew he wanted to make 49 of them—a 7×7 grid of sketches, each composed of discrete marks. As each mark was made in a moment of time (each drawing built on an accumulation of moments), each drawing came to symbolize a year of his own life: 49 drawings and 49 years of moments, adding up to himself.
Conceptually, the 49 drawings became the catalyst for a project to highlight the significance of reaching a landmark age—of achieving the status of “elder” at age 50. The tiered project involved 49 people age 50 or older who were celebrated by 7 writers and 7 artists under 50. Each artist was assigned seven elders (known as “leaves”) about whom to make portraits and write odes (49 words in length, of course). Each septet of leaves was honored in one of 7 events hosted by a pair of co-hosts and including a celebratory youth art group.
Held at Area 405 in Baltimore in fall of 2014, Autumn Leaves featured 49 portraits by 7 artists (Tiffany Jones, Paris Johnson, Ernest Shaw, Eric Briscoe, Zoë Charlton, Nicole Buckingham Kern, and Ian MacLean Davis), 49 written odes next to the portraits by 7 writers (Kevin Griffin Moreno, Jeremy Chase-Israel, Art Vandalay (a/k/a Slangston Hughes), Fia Angelou (a/k/a Nakia Brown), Jen Grow, Laura Shovan, and Steven Leyva). The exhibition also included the 49 drawings by Peter, displayed at the gallery’s entrance to invoke the exhibition’s theme.
Participants were divided into 7 groups named for tree species and assigned hosts and a youth art group. At the events, each of the 49 “leaves” was asked to speak to three questions (What gives your life meaning? How do you think about your own death? What would you like to say to your 21-year-old self?), all while a 49-image slideshow they had created about their life played in the gallery. Honorees were given seven minutes to share their reflections, and the evenings were rich in vulnerability, fellowship, and wisdom on the meaning of life. Visit project website to see the 49 videos of “leaves” sharing.
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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.