Artist Profile: Pete Peterson, Sr.

Pete Peterson, Sr. (Skokomish), a First Peoples Fund Cultural Capital grantee in 2006 and 2012, says he always enjoys attending First Peoples Fund events. 

“It’s like being a member of a large family,” he says.

Yet this year, in addition to seeing friends and welcoming the 2012 CSA honorees into the First Peoples Fund community of artists, Peterson and his wife Marilee experienced something new. Peterson was a major contributor to the first ever First Peoples Fund art auction. He donated a bentwood box, made from a red cedar tree given to him by the forest service in the Olympic Mountains—it was a piece that everyone admired at the lively (and sold-out) pre-show art auction. 

And that beautiful bentwood box found a home after the auction. When it sold, the buyer’s glow was contagious—everyone around him cheered and clapped. Then the final bidder realized that the artist was standing right next to him, and they had the opportunity to discuss the piece at length. The artist and the buyer giddily studied the box inside and out, as Peterson described how he created the piece, told stories about the designs, and the new owner of the bentwood box explained that it was going to be a heirloom that he would pass on to his children, and his children’s children. 

“It was a wonderful experience, being able to meet someone who appreciates a piece as much as he seemed to,” Peterson says. “It was nice to talk with someone that dedicated to art.” 

Peterson began his work as an artist in silver and gold media almost 40 years ago. At 17, he enlisted in the Navy, where he was trained as a machinist, which he believes developed his manual dexterity and natural eye for detail. He then worked as a logger in the Olympic Mountains, which also prepared him for the materials he now uses to create art. 

Currently he is working on a mask, two maple spindles, and on a small bentwood box for his great-granddaughter. He says he always has three or four projects going on at once. 

“When I get tired of one project, I just go to one of the others,” he says. 

The box he is making for his great-granddaughter is a bank box 6 inches by 6 inches by 10 inches high. He is making it so that there is a hole where she can put money in, but there is no way for her to open it and take the money out unless his great-granddaughter brings the bank box to him to saw open. 

Peterson’s family is clearly a focus of his life. Not only do family members receive his blessings, but some are continuing the tradition. He has made sterling silver bracelets, using only Northwest designs, for every female member of his family. Peterson’s son Paul is an artist, in wood carving and mixed media. He received a First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Award in 2011.