Friday, July 27, 2018

Peter Hunt, Cape Cod's famous folk artist

The folksy art style of painter Peter Hunt is my latest obsession.
His story is a rags to riches tale, and it happened in my own back yard on Cape Cod.
Peter moved to Provincetown, Massachusetts with his parents in the late 1920s. 
Peter followed in his artist father's footsteps, and began painting as a hobby.
He painted old furniture and household items found at thrift shops,
decorating them with colorful folk art patterns he called peasant style.
His patterns called to mind Pennsylvania German and French Provincial folk art.  Hearts,
flowers, birds, fish, angels, maidens and suitors were all depicted in his happy colorful designs.
Peter sometimes would add French phrases to the designs, and this became his signature style
 as well as a way of identifying his pieces.  The year the item was painted would
 be noted this way, "Anno Domini '43" to indicate it was painted in the year 1943.

His artistic journey began after he painted a chest for a small girl with scenes from her life. His reputation spread and soon he found his items selling to the wealthy summer patrons of Cape Cod.  They loved his fun and cheerful pieces of furniture, perfect for their summer homes.  
He became so well known, that Dupont sponsored him with their paint line and 
produced a book on how to paint decorative furniture.
New York's cosmetic giant Helena Rubenstein was a famous patron.  Peter was quite a charmer and a colorful character, known for his good looks, wit and outrageous story telling.  
His reputation was quite bright in the 1930s and 1940s, due to his popularity 
with the jet set and their promotions of his peasant painted designs. 
New York department stores clamored to carry his furniture, so Peter hired local teenagers and taught them how to paint in the Peter Hunt style.  Macy's and Gimbels carried his wares.  Peter also came out with decals for those who were artistically challenged so housewives could decorate in the Peter Hunt style.  He wrote the Peter Hunt Workbook, and Peter Hunt's How to Do It,  encouraging women to redo furniture during the challenging depression era and World War 2.  

This charming simple painting style captured many hearts.
There is a Peter Hunt bench sitting in a country club in Hyannis.
Life magazine, House Beautiful, Vogue, National Geographic, Country Living 
and McCall's magazine all have featured Peter's art.
Peter Hunt even landed the cover of TIME magazine! 
He was asked to create the Cape Cod room in the Drake Hotel of Chicago.
He painted sea murals on the walls, and the room was adorned with Cape Cod style
items, such as copper chowder pots hanging from the beams.

His painted pieces were quite desirable then and now can be spotted at auction these days 
bringing thousands of dollars, like this mirror currently on 1st Dibs for $3800.
His charming style has inspired me to try this style of "peasant" style painting.

His popular painting style waned in the 1950s. 
By then he had moved to another town on the Cape, Orleans, and opened
a shop called Peacock Alley.
He lived there until he died of a heart attack at home, almost penniless.
His story fascinated me. 
 A man who had no formal training, but painted from
the heart and followed his passion to find popularity and success for most of his 
adult life.  His cookbook and his workbook are on their way to me now,
as I have hunted them down on eBay.  Its been a joy to research him, and see
his painted pieces.  Peter influenced and taught many other artists, such as 
Nancy Whorf, who started her own art career painting in the Peter Hunt style
also in Provincetown and eventually shifted to fine arts painting.
This is one of Nancy's pieces, and the Peter Hunt charm is evident in her brushstrokes.
Her former home, still decorated with many folk art details she painted, is available for 
rent on Airbnb.  She is a celebrated artist in her own right, but began her journey under the tutelage of Peter Hunt.  Stepping back in time to uncover the life and times of this major 
folk artist was such a highlight, and I hope you enjoyed learning about Peter Hunt.

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  1. Amy, hunt down a copy of the book "Paintbox Summer" by Betty Cavanna. It's about a teenaged girl who spends a summer working for Hunt. Cavanna lived in Concord and summered on the Cape.

    1. Dixie Lee, I will! Thank you for the recommendation. I hope I can find a copy.

  2. Whoooo Hooooo! You did it! I can leave you a comment now! Now you will start getting comments again as soon as your regular readers figure out they can do so! Hang in there, Amy! xo Diana

  3. Love these pieces! Don't they make you so happy just to look at them!?
    I'm a fan of Quimper Soleil Farmer and Wife dishes and enjoy using them every day!
    Also a fan of Rosemaling painted furniture, picked up two wooden trunks in Minnesota in the 1980's.

    1. I know that pottery! French country pottery and so charming!

  4. Thanks for this column Amy. I inherited some of his pieces from my mother and I remember going to the Orleans shop when I was little with her and my aunt. I think there was another shop they liked nearby, The Wool Shop. I have 5 pieces, one of which is falling apart. I have added a book of his and another piece that I think is just a copy. I remember something about him not usually signing his work and much of it was done by students. I have pics. Maureen Ingram

    1. Wow Maureen!! That is so interesting to me, I would love to see pictures. If you can email them to me at we could share more on the subject. I would love to hear more!

  5. My great uncle was Bob Osterhout, Peter Hunt's assistant. Can you email me? I am researching Bob for a piece I'm working on. Thanks so much. MO


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