Margaret Peterson was an artist and art teacher, born on June 3rd, 1902 in Seattle, Washington to Ellen Charlotte (Lawson) and Edwin Richard Peterson. Margaret attended the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco (1920-1923) and obtained both a BA (1926) and a MA (1931) in Fine Arts from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1937 she married Canadian author Howard O’Hagan whom she met at Berkeley. During her life, she lived in the United States, British Columbia, and Italy. Peterson died in Victoria, B.C. on May 16th, 1997.
From 1920 to 1923 Peterson attended night drawing classes with Glenn Wessels at the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco. While attending UC Berkeley Peterson studied under Worth Ryder, Vaclav Vytlacil, Hans Hoffmann and Ray Boynton. After obtaining her MA in 1931, she studied art in Europe for a year with Andre L’Hote and Vaclav Vytlacil. From the 1930s on Peterson travelled extensively, studying the arts and cultures of various countries, including Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Germany, France and Italy. In 1963 and 1964, after winning the Canada Council Senior Arts Award for the study of mosaic, Peterson travelled throughout England, Europe and Egypt to study the medium.
After graduating from Berkeley with her BA, Peterson instructed art courses at both UC Berkeley and Oregon State College. In 1928, she joined the art department faculty of UC Berkeley as a full-time instructor. Returning from her studies in Europe in 1932, Peterson re-joined the Berkeley art faculty as a full time Associate Professor of Art, a post she held until 1950. In 1950, in protest of the anti-communist loyalty oath required of all Berkeley faculty members, Peterson resigned from her post as professor. In the summer of 1952 Peterson ran a school of painting in San Francisco. In 1953, she ran a similar summer school in Duncan, B.C., where she had been living with her husband since 1951. Throughout her career as an art educator, Peterson taught many students who went on to become successful artists such as Elmer Bischoff, David Park, Richard Diebenkorn, Jay DeFeo, Colin Graham and Pat Adams.
Peterson’s artworks consist primarily of abstract paintings, drawings and mosaics. In her early career, Peterson worked in a predominately Cubist style and was highly influenced by artists such as Picasso. From approximately the late 1930s on Peterson became more artistically influenced and interested in the various arts and mythologies of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. However, despite her study of indigenous art, Peterson remained adamant that her art was not derivative of the indigenous art she admired. Instead, Peterson’s use of tempera on rigid supports, such as wood and cardboard, instead of the more traditional and common materials of oil paints and canvas, as well as her matte, colourful and monumental images of celestial gods and abstracted figures, are often regarded as being part of her own truly unique artistic style.
<i>Awards and Exhibitions</i>
Peterson was honoured with several exhibitions and awards throughout her artistic career. Peterson exhibited from the 1930s to the 1980s at various galleries in the United States and Canada as well as in Mexico City and London, UK. Her major exhibitions included: The Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1933, 1960); San Francisco Art Association shows (1942, 1943); The American Federation of Arts, Carmel (1945, 1965); The San Francisco Museum of Art (1950, 1951, 1958, 1973); Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (1953, 1959, 1962); and the Biennial of Canadian Painting at the National Gallery, Ottawa (1961, 1963). In 1964, Peterson represented Canada at the Biennale de Sao Paolo, Brazil.
Peterson’s many awards included the Bertha Benecke Tauseg Memorial Award scholarship (1931), first prize for her piece “Mother” in the San Francisco Women Artists show (1936), the Emmanuel Walter Fund purchase prize for “Mother and Child” in the San Francisco Art Association show (1942), and the Canada Council Senior Arts Award for the study of mosaic and temple art (1963).
Peterson’s work is represented in many public, private and corporate collections, including the art collection of UC Berkeley, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (formerly San Francisco Museum of Art), the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the University of Victoria Art Collections, the British Columbia Provincial Art Collection, Vancouver Art Gallery, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Accademia di Bella Arti in Ravenna, Italy.