Peyton's place in art is with the environmentPeyton was an artist and avid outdoorsman throughout his long life. Born in Proctor, he graduated from Duluth Central High School and studied at Yale, his only time away from the Northland. His legacy includes paintings done in watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastel and as collages, as well as books.
Among the hundreds of offerings at the Park Point Art Fair last weekend were the works of John L. Peyton.
You could say they fit right into the environment.
“He was completely in love with the outdoors,” said Kris Cameron, granddaughter of the artist, who died at 94 in 2001. “He
created art from what he saw, going out into the woods with a paint box and a stool — that was his inspiration.”
Peyton was an artist and avid outdoorsman throughout his long life. Born in Proctor, he graduated from Duluth Central High School and studied at Yale, his only time away from the Northland. His legacy includes paintings done in watercolor, oil, acrylic, pastel and as collages, as well as books.
He was also a banker.
“Besides being a banker, he took his passion for art and started a gallery from an old mechanic’s place,” Cameron said of the Lake Superior Art Gallery, which he opened in 1970. “People came and did modeling, bookkeeping, cleaning, and helped with upkeep, but they also began their art careers there.”
Peyton’s work reflected his love and respect for the environment and his appreciation of regional history, said Martin DeWitt, former director of the Tweed Museum of Art at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
“[He] was truly passionate about nature. John’s reverence for the land and its people, especially the Ojibwe, was the inspiration for him to paint and to experiment with so many art forms,” DeWitt said. “John Peyton’s legacy is no doubt embodied in his love and respect for the big lake in all its diversity, its ever-changing moods and dramatic physical wonder.”
In his own words in a family-written biography, Peyton said: “I guess it’s fondness for the area and the wildlife and the people, as well as the landscapes. Those have been the subjects of my writings and my books.”
Intertwining his love of both the outdoors and art, he took an active part in efforts to extend national forest boundaries. He was an organizer of the Stop the Freeway movement in the 1970s that led to the development of the Lakewalk in Duluth.
“Had this movement not happened, there wouldn’t be the Lakewalk we see today,” Cameron said. “That’s just one of his legacies.”
Though he eventually lost his gallery on London Road to the interstate, it did not cease his passion for art. He went back to Proctor and worked in his studio space there.
About this time the art world was seeing the advent of computers, and Peyton embraced the new technology.
“He loved the idea of digital painting and being able to fix mistakes with ease,” Cameron said. “He said it was the freest expression of art that he’d ever done.”
In his 70s and 80s, that expression manifested itself in five books he wrote and illustrated.
“When he finally had the time to slow down, he began to write stories from his experiences and stories he’d heard as a child,” Cameron said. “He wrote about important things and reflected the stories of the Northland and the old Ojibwe way.”
His first book, “The Stone Canoe,” retells legends of the Ojibwe and won the 1991 Minnesota Book Award for fiction. In 1994, he wrote his fifth book, called “The Birch.” Another manuscript, “Strife of Gods,” awaits publication.
The art and history from his life has yet to disappear, all with the help of Cameron and her husband Doug, who own Hawk Ridge Art, a home gallery that represents his work.
“We have over 700 original paintings in the house,” Cameron said. “Practically every square inch of wall space is covered with artwork.”
The gallery also includes over 10,000 lithographic prints, as well as giclée digital prints that are made with longer lasting ink and canvas.
Cecelia Lieder, owner of Northern Print Gallery in Duluth said his work includes “the finest in traditional lithographic technique, to highly original experiments pushing the limits of technology available in the 1960s,” and “the work of a lively, creative intellect (with a) passion for art.”
The couple attends art fairs across the region, like the annual Park Point event, sharing stories and revisiting Peyton’s life.
“I love doing art fairs, telling stories about him, as well as hearing stories from people who knew him,” Cameron said. “He always wanted to know about you, even if he didn’t know you, and would never talk about himself.
“Art is so private so personal,” she said,” and therefore his paintings keep him very much alive.”
The home gallery can be visited by appointment only; visit hawkridgeart. com for more information or contact Kris and Doug Cameron at (218) 348-0097.