Monday, February 23, 2015

Margaret Peterson: Berkeley Modernist


Portrait of Margaret Peterson
Curtis Lantinga
ca 1978
Painter and illustrator Margaret Peterson was born in Seattle in 1902. She moved to the San Francisco Bay area for her education and earned her Master of Arts degree at the University of California, Berkeley. When art historians discuss the Berkeley School, the art department at U.C. Berkeley, Margaret Peterson is the artist who seems to have best understood the theories of modern artist and teacher, Hans Hoffman. She began teaching at Berkeley in 1928, and held that position until 1950. Peterson became a self-described disciple of Cubism early in her career and is considered to be one of the “Berkeley Modernists” along with Worth Ryder, John Haley, and Erle Loran. Among her students were Elmer Bischoff, Richard Diebenkorn and Jay DeFeo, artists important to the San Francisco abstractionist movement. 

Margaret PetersonFemale Nude 
ca 1932
Pen
19 1/8 x 13 9/16 inches
de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA
By the mid-1930s Peterson was working in an abstract style that was influenced by Braque as well as Mexican modernists Carlos Merida and Rufino Tamayo. She met both artists in Mexico City during her solo exhibition at the Biblioteca Nacional in 1934.

In an interview conducted by Paul J. Karlstrom, West Coast Regional Director of the Smithsonian Archives of American Art, Jay De Feo provides a vivid description of Margaret Peterson, her art instructor. De Feo claims Peterson believed that a painting not be a literary idea but a visual one. Her preferred media was not to paint with oil but to work on gessoed board using egg tempera. 

Margaret Peterson
Cover Illustration
ca 1977
Peterson married Howard O’Hagan, the Canadian writer famous for the novel Tay John. Published in 1939 and all but forgotten in the conflagration of WW II, despite being re-published in 1960, it did not receive its proper recognition until it was reprinted in the New Canadian Library in 1974. Margaret Peterson’s work became the cover art for The School-Marm Tree published in 1977 by Talonbooks in Vancouver.

Refusing to sign a loyalty oath during the McCarthy era, Peterson resigned from Berkeley and with her husband, left the country where they relocated to Victoria, British Columbia. Peterson had a solo exhibition with the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in 1953, 1959, and 1978. In the mid 1960s and 1970s, Peterson was commissioned to develop glass and ceramic mosaics for the University of Victoria and the British Colombia Hydro Building there. 

Margaret Peterson
Head
ca 1956
Oil on Hardboard
25 x 18 15/16 inches
Margaret Peterson
The Gemini
ca 1959
Tempera on wood panel
Legacy Maltwood, Victoria, B.C.
Until the late 1940s, her inspiration was from Picasso. Deeply interested in spirituality and Peterson spent much of her life traveling the world exploring human spiritual belief and practice which became the basis for her work. She was particularly interested in the art and spiritual iconography of the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest and of Central and South America. Peterson’s work in the late fifties into the early sixties displays her interest in both abstraction and native art. 
Margaret Peterson
The Birth of Fire
ca 1960
Tempera on wood panel
Legacy Maltwood, Victoria BC
Margaret Peterson
The Gods of Intertidal Waters
ca 1960
Termpera on wood panel
Legacy Maltwood, Victoria BC
Margaret Peterson died in Sidney, British Columbia on May 15, 1997. 
_____________________________________________________
Sources
de Young/Legion of Honor, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco, http://art.famsf.org/margaret-peterson/female-nude-19591184, retrieved February 23, 2015.
Brian Dedora, Margaret Peterson, http://briandedora.com/?p=2477, posted 2011, retrieved February 23, 2015.
Independent Spirits, Women Painters of the American West, 1890-1945,  Patricia Trenton, ed, p.32
Preview, The Gallery Guide, Margaret Peterson: A Search in Rhythm, http://preview-art.com/previews/06-2014/peterson.html, retrieved February 23, 2015.
AskArt, Margaret O'Hagan Peterson, http://www.askart.com/askart/p/margaret_ohagan_peterson/margaret_ohagan_peterson.aspx?GUID=A367AE1A-99D6-4F9A-9C42-AA4E99B4D433, retrieved February 23, 2015.