Artist Peter Ferber has established an emotional connection with people all around the country, and even overseas, with his watercolor paintings of lakefront scenes. His works depicting summer life in New Hampshire combine his background in creating commercial architectural renderings with his experiences on the lake dating from his youth when he spent his summers in Wolfeboro. The result is a body of works that take the viewer to a serene, dreamlike state of mind.
Of all his commissioned and non-commissioned works, he derives the most excitement from preparing special collections for gallery shows such as the one opening at the Art Place this Saturday, Aug. 31, and continuing through Sept. 13.
“Shows are the most fun,” Peter says, “because I’m pursuing what I want to do.”
He explained that the genesis for the show opening on Labor Day Weekend was a canoe excursion he took nearly a year ago. “I noticed an interesting-looking cottage on the far shore of Moultonborough Neck,” he said. “Since it was a beautiful, calm day, I set out across Moultonborough Bay to check it out. This was a stretch of shore I was unfamiliar with.”
He found himself continuing from one location to another, photographing scene after scene for future use in his paintings. “By noontime I realized I had already gathered more than enough material for a whole show’s worth of paintings,” Peter said. “So that’s what I’m presenting this time: a progression of paintings from early morning through evening, following the meandering of my paddling that day.”
Peter generally works from photographs because he then has a moment frozen in time, when the lighting and weather will not change. Plein-air paintings are difficult in New England, where a clear, blue sky can become filled with dark thunder clouds within a matter of minutes and a warm, sunny day can turn into one of torrential rainfall before it is over.
Nevertheless, he has done the occasional open-air painting, such as his depiction of Endicott Street, Laconia, with a picket fence surrounded by flowers in the foreground, receding into the distance of a street lined with old homes.
He also will work with other media besides watercolors, such as oils and acrylics, but he prefers the ability to “push the envelope” with watercolors. He sometimes enjoys experimenting, such as taking a nearly complete painting and applying a neutral wash over the entire scene, which makes the colors blur and run. “It unifies the painting with one color, and softens it to make it more impressionistic,” Peter says. He then goes back and touches up parts of the painting where he wants detail, creating a unique, almost dreamlike scene. “It’s a very fun thing to do,” he says.
Peter said he cannot recall a time when he was not interested in painting, from grade school on. All through high school and college (he graduated from Principia College in St. Louis MO in 1976), he continued painting, although he admits, “I never felt I was as good as my peers,” and he decided he needed to find a job that was related to art but not working as an “artist” — hence his earlier career as a commercial illustrator.
He found his niche as an artist when, in 1994, he painted the official poster for the New England Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society’s annual show — a project he has completed every year since then. “Boat posters were a way of finding an audience,” he said. “They [the posters] were unique, and brought new people into the gallery.”
Barbara Gibbs of the Art Place said she was looking for artists to show at her gallery and, when she saw Peter’s original artwork — both boats and scenes of the lake — “I knew they would be greatly popular here.”
Barbara had originally opened a framing shop in Alton Bay in 1981, with a few local artists putting works on display. She later moved to Wolfeboro, finally getting onto Main Street in 1991, shortly before Peter moved permanently to the area.
“His ‘Wolfeboro Afterglow’ was our first print together,” she recalled, saying that was in 1995. The Art Place has published limited-edition prints of his paintings ever since. “It’s a wonderful working relationship,” she said. “With his paintings of the area and landscapes, he provides the feeling of what people come up here for: to unwind and relax. He creates a wonderful sense of place.”
The prints, she added, make his paintings affordable to everyone, and, by limiting the number of each print, they appreciate in value.
Typically, it is women who make purchases at galleries but, with Peter’s works such as “Morning Run” — showing a boat heading out onto the lake — Barbara has found the prints are appealing to men, as well. Peter said many men who buy the prints say they are for their offices, so that, during a trying day at work, they can look at the painting for stress relief.
To create the paintings of summer life, Peter incorporates his memories of childhood into his depictions of cottages and lake scenery, capturing details that set the mood of a summer’s vacation.
In the mid-1990s, he began getting more requests for commissioned works, and his life as an “artist” was in full swing. Even with commissioned works, he said, he tries to steer the clients toward an honest, top-quality expression of reality. “I have people suggest a topic, and then I’ll give a suggestion, to create a cooperative approach,” he said.
By 1994, he was living in the Lakes Region full-time and, within a year, he had phased out his commercial work so he could just work at painting. He especially enjoys the “happy accidents” when he is experimenting with new techniques, or when he goes to an area to photograph one scene and turns a corner to discover an even more interesting scene.
In addition to his regular work, Peter does volunteer projects, directing a group of people to create a mural or doing a show to benefit nonprofit organizations. Among his fundraisers are auctions for Bald Peak and Castle in the Clouds.
Peter estimates that he has done about 1,000 paintings during the last 30 years, creating about 40 works a year. There are close to 100 reproductions of his original paintings out there.
Some of the time, painting is more work than at other times, and he appreciates it when a work inspires fresh energy, as the paintings for his current show have done.
“Putting this show together has been particularly meaningful,” he said, “partly because of the way it presented itself. That concentrated influx of inspiration that day has fueled all the paintings. Not since the series of the Castle in the Clouds I did five years ago have I felt this impetus. … I didn’t want to stop working. I wanted to see what the next brushstrokes would bring out.”
Peter mentioned one painting that spoke to him in a very personal way. It was a party scene at a boathouse such as might have occurred during the early years of the 20th century. The brightly lit party scene is observed from the outside where the boathouse itself is dark against a darker background of trees, and the tip of a canoe is in the foreground.
“I realized that it reflected my way of objectifying what I see, standing apart from the action rather than being involved with it. I had no idea I was putting that into it when I was creating the painting,” he said.
The Labor Day Weekend show will feature 15 new works, predominantly watercolor but with a large oil and some small acrylics as well.
“In addition, I’ll be offering the original painting I did for the Libby Museum Centennial poster, which includes that much-loved Winter Harbor view framed by an interwoven border of animals from the museum’s collection,” he said.
“Beyond the appeal of the scenes themselves, I hope that my work will stir an awareness of the value of preserving the character and history of this rich landscape we all enjoy,” he concluded.