Morton Contemporary Gallery, in the heart of Center City Philadelphia, in partnership with Gratz Gallery & Conservation Studio of Doylestown, presents “an extraordinary 20th-century Modernist talent previously lost in the annals of history, but now found.”
In the darkest moments of COVID 2020, a treasure was unearthed in a barn in the Catskills and 250 Peter Miller paintings were discovered, restored by longtime Princeton University conservator and gallerist Paul Gratz, and soon to go on exhibition in Peter Miller’s hometown of Philadelphia.
“It is with tremendous honor that we deliver her little known story of passion, grace, mysticism, philanthropy and artistic genius to you,” reads a joint statement from the galleries.
“The Peter Miller Story: A Forgotten Woman of American Modernism” will be on view Nov. 11 to Jan. 20, at Morton Contemporary Gallery, 115 S. 13th St., Philadelphia.
Born Henrietta Myers in 1913, American Modernist and Surrealist painter Peter Miller attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts from 1933 to 1937.
As a young woman artist at the prestigious PAFA, Henrietta saw barriers ahead in her career — in a world of artists, collectors, and critics that was dominated by men — should she take her given name or transform her public and artistic persona into a man in order to capture the attention of a male centered world?
In her application to PAFA, she wrote that she “would rather fail at painting than succeed at anything else in life.” Ultimately, harking back to her childhood nickname of “Peter,” and marrying fellow PAFA student Earle Miller in 1935, Surrealist Modernist Peter Miller was born.
Peter came from an affluent family in Hanover, Pa., and later settled at Rock Raymond Farm in Chester County. She designated her 350 acre farm and private property to be donated to the Brandywine Conservancy upon her death in 1996.
Classified as an American Modernist, the artist began her career with two solo shows at the prestigious Julien Levy gallery in 1944 and 1946. Reviewers of her exhibitions noted the unmistakable influence of artist Joan Miro (whose work Peter owned and whom she knew), Arthur Carles whom she studied under, and sources in Native American culture.
Throughout her lifetime, Peter came to know an illustrious coterie of artists, including the Calders, Henri Matisse, Max Ernst, and the surrealists of the time in New York City, all of whom influenced her aesthetic leanings. Additionally, one does not have to look hard to see her work sources inspiration at different times from Pablo Picasso, Fernand Leger, and Paul Klee.
The single greatest influence of her artistic vision and style may well have been born of a very special friendship with Edith Warner, a mystic from Sante Fe, N.M., who became Peter’s mentor and confidante. Peter and her husband, Earle, split their personal time between Pennsylvania and their spiritual home in Santa Fe where the couple eagerly escaped high society life on their large desert estate.
It was her many years in Sante Fe, developing deep personal connections with the San Ildefonso Pueblo, that perhaps was the single greatest influence on her creative perspective and artistic expression. Warner was personally connected to the San Ildefonso Pueblo, and together these two women were invited to witness sacred ceremonies and rituals, an honor granted to very few white people at that time.
Through the many friendships Peter made throughout Sante Fe, her body of work began to absorb a fascination and even obsession with original petroglyphs, ceremonial objects, and the soothing colors of the desert sand, sky, and canyon walls. A deep sensual painterly glow, resulting from layers and layers of paint, containing in places up to eight different colors in a small square inch, has come to define her unique aesthetic.
Every painting of Peter’s is a story, reflecting her heart and soul, allowing her love of nature and beliefs in all metaphysical things to shine through her work.
In 1986, toward the end of her life, Peter and her husband donated their beloved Miro painting, “Horse, Pipe and Red Flower” (Still life with Horse) to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Anne d’Harnoncourt, the director of the PMA at the time, was one of Peter’s best friends.