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 Peter Hunt  (1896 - 1967)

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Lived/Active: Massachusetts      Known for: folk art furniture-peasant art decoration, silkscreen, drawing

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Ad Code: 4
Peter Hunt
from Auction House Records.
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A folk artist and story teller with wide-ranging imagination, Peter Hunt, working from the 1930s through the 1960s, made his reputation with peasant decorations on furniture. "A friend of the wealthy, the artistic and the odd-ball, Peter Hunt and his Peasant Village was a well-known fixture on Cape Cod."  Customers included Helena Rubenstein and Frederick Waugh.

A longstanding Cape Cod legend (that Hunt originated and promoted) held that he first arrived in Provincetown in the early 1920s when the yacht Hunt shared with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald was forced to take safe harbor in the face of a storm.  Wearing a sweeping black cape and a black broad-rimmed hat, holding the leashes of his playful afghan hounds while a red-headed dwarf scurried behind, Hunt said he strolled the streets of the village and declared, “This is a wonderful place. I must stay here.”

No matter how dramatic (or ordinary) his arrival, Hunt did stay in Provincetown, bringing his parents, Ma and Pa Hunt, and establishing himself as a folk artist and furniture director at his collection of shops called Peasant Village.  On what he christened Peter Hunt Lane, an alley that spilled onto Commercial Street, he employed talented young people to decorate the stools, tables, dressers, trays and other household goods in his trademark peasant style that became so popular in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Among his apprentices are now well-known modern impressionists Nancy Whorf Kelly and Carol Whorf Wescott.
Hunt’s work was originally “discovered” by the well-to-do summer people on Cape Cod, who found his colorful peasant decorations the perfect accents for their cottages and retreats. They also found Hunt to be charming, witty and a great addition to cocktail parties and dinners, and his mailbox was filled with invitations from the upper crust of Boston and New York.

Soon the buyers from upscale department stores, including Bloomingdale’s, Gimbel’s and Macy’s, got wind of society’s latest fascination in home decoration, and they clambered for Hunt to decorate more and more furnishings and knick-knacks for their stores, often featuring him in special promotions touted with full-page ads in the New York and Boston newspapers.

When the United States began fighting in World War II, Hunt brought a new angle to his work: he could show anyone how to “transform old furniture into new” (with a sponsoring line of paints from Du Pont, of course), so people could continue to conserve and recycle as the wartime government had enjoined.  His booklets for Du Pont Nemours, How to Transform Old Furniture into New in 1943 and Transformagic in 1945 were immensely popular, especially after Life, House Beautiful, and Mademoiselle magazines published feature stories and photo spreads about Hunt and his furniture decorating techniques.

After the war, when trade with Europe re-opened and new styles in home furnishings could be imported, Hunt’s wealthy clients began looking abroad for interior designs.  Taking advantage of the resurgence in industry and trade, Hunt began creating designs for mass market sales, and his peasant images and embellishments could be found on Meyercord decals, Rideau pottery, and Jerywil woodcrafts. Despite his efforts, the public’s interest in his peasant designs began to wane.

Hunt decided to sell Peasant Village’s properties in 1959, saying “When a customer complains about the price of a $2.50 Christmas ornament, well, then I know there’s no more money in Provincetown.” He opened Peacock Alley in Orleans on Cape Cod the following year.

Those last years were devoted to exploring new forms of art and crafts. Hunt experimented, with some success, with decoupage and his own version of psychedelic art in an effort to attract a new audience.

One night, in April 1967, Peter Hunt went to bed, fell asleep and never woke up. A coroner later declared the cause of death as a heart attack.

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