Saturday, December 17, 2011

Jan Peters, Prominent Figure in Contemporary Craft Art, Dies at 64

Photo by Andi Wolfe ©2006
Press release from del Mano Gallery on December 17, 2011.

Jan Peters, a prominent figure in the American craft movement, passed away December 5th in Los Angeles after a twelve-year battle with cancer. She was 64.

Peters and business partner Ray Leier established del Mano Gallery in January, 1973 in Pasadena, California to represent artists exploring the creative potential of traditional craft media, including wood, glass, ceramic, fiber and metal. Their business and the craft field both expanded over the decades. Now based in West Los Angeles, del Mano Gallery is one of the oldest and most influential fine craft galleries in the world, exhibiting work by an international array of artists and placing studio craft objects with leading collectors and museums.

“It was hippie artists selling crafts in those days,” Peters said of the gallery’s humble origins in a 2005 interview. “In the early 1970s, artists were taking it upon themselves to be out there selling their work. It wasn’t pretending to be high art. It was about connecting on an emotional level. It was the antithesis of the Fifties and Sixties, which was all about mass production and plastics. The Craft Movement was the counter-swing, the response to that.”

As an early champion of contemporary art in craft media, the gallery exhibited the work of many artists long before they became internationally known: furniture maker Sam Maloof, glass artist Dale Chihuly, fiber artist Kay Sekimachi and her late husband, turned-wood artist Bob Stocksdale, the late ceramist Ralph Bacerra, and many others. As a staunch advocate of studio craft and its place alongside the so-called “fine arts” in museums and art fairs, Peters’ dedication and commitment helped to educate the public and break down barriers that brought contemporary fine craft respect and credibility.

Although del Mano became the foremost wood art gallery in the world, it did not abandon its commitment to other media. One of the few commercial venues in Southern California to feature fiber art over the past thirty years, Jan promoted the work of Laurie Swim and tapestry artist Michael F. Rohde among others. “Jan was a most remarkable person,” claims Rohde. “Even though the gallery has become known as the premier exhibitor of the best of work in wood, she was always willing to explore other media if she felt the work had merit. She had a great eye.”

"Jan has been an inexhaustible advocate for American artists and the international art community,” comments renowned wood sculptor William Hunter, whose multi-museum retrospective exhibition in 2006 featured many of the works Peters’ had placed with collectors. Peters and Hunter first met as fellow artists exhibiting work in an outdoor arcade craft show organized by future art dealer Larry Gagosian in Westwood Village, during the early 1970s. “There was no one quite like her,” said Hunter. “Jan had energy, enthusiasm, dry humor, honesty, intelligence and a ‘can-do’ spirit."

It was these qualities, combined with a visionary approach to promoting craft art, that led del Mano to become a leading gallery not only nationally, but internationally. Peters became a facilitator in developing artists' careers, turning casual buyers into ardent collectors and brokering deals to get major works into museums. The gallery exhibited work at art expositions in New York City, Chicago and Santa Fe; published books; and explored new media, including video and the Internet, in order to make works accessible to collectors across the United States and from London to Hong Kong. Also, they produced print catalogues for every exhibition, something only a handful of galleries do.

"Over the years, Jan encouraged and promoted experimentation within our field, allowing artists to break through boundaries of function into sculptural expressions,” note Todd Hoyer and Hayley Smith, two of the artists the gallery represents. “She helped guide collectors to look beyond the material and see the intent. She was an advocate for the arts.”

“Jan was an educator for those of us who arrived here with little knowledge, a councilor for those of us who sought direction, and an example to all who recognize courage,” offers Ron Layport, who began exhibiting with del Mano Gallery twelve years ago. "Jan was a force among us. She was a broker of knowledge, of beauty, and of friendships and a connector of people: artists, collectors, institutions, and venues.”

A consummate gallerist, Peters seamlessly navigated the worlds of artists, collectors, museum curators and gallery owners. She was a lecturer, educator, critic and coauthor of books on the subject of contemporary craft. Much sought-after as a speaker and juror of craft shows, including the prestigious Smithsonian Craft Show and Philadelphia Art Museum Shows, Jan traveled around the country promoting studio crafts.

"Jan's remarkable energy and personal commitment along with her professional talent laid the foundation for the wood art field as we know it today,” says the artist Michael Peterson, represented by del Mano from the beginning of his career. Like William Hunter, he recently had a retrospective featuring many works the gallery has placed with clients. “It's hard to overstate the contribution she made to our field. Her passion and strong spirit will continue to inspire all of us whose lives she touched.”

“When we discovered woodturning, we discovered Jan Peters; the two are inseparable,” claims Jane and Arthur Mason, collectors who have gifted works from their collection of contemporary wood art to several museums. “We met her at del Mano Gallery in 1987. We were excited about this new world, and Jan and Ray Leier guided us on our quest. Jan wasn't just a salesperson; but a friend, educator, critic, adviser, and historian.”
Peters’ contribution to museums across the country was tremendous, assisting them in building permanent collections.

"Jan, and her business partner, Ray Leier, were instrumental in helping the museum build its collection of contemporary wood art,” says James Jensen, Curator of Contemporary Art, Honolulu Museum of Art. “Jan was generous in introducing me to the field and discussing the work of many artists.”
"Jan gave so much to the gallery and to the artists. She will be sorely missed among her friends in wood,” states Jo Ann Edwards, Executive Director, Museum of Craft and Design.
"She was always eager to share her passion for the contemporary wood field with others and I profited greatly from her knowledge,” comments Harold B. Nelson, Curator of American Decorative Arts, The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. “She was also an honorable business person.”

“Jan Peters was an ally and dedicated co-strategist in the effort to elevate studio crafts to the level of fine art,” says Jo Lauria, independent curator and former decorative arts curator, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “She was a tireless advocate and visionary with the rare combination of imagination, insight, and skill to assist curators to secure significant pieces for museum collections. Through the direct efforts of Jan, Ray Leier, and del Mano’s then creative director, Kevin Wallace, LACMA acquired an unparalleled selection of master works in wood from the Dr. Irving and Mari Lipton collection. The craft field has lost one of its most creative and tenacious supporters. Jan's legacy will continue through the many collections she has helped to facilitate in museums nationwide. ”

Kevin Wallace, Director, Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, who began his career at del Mano Gallery over two decades ago, sums up Jan’s broad impact: “Whether advising a collector, museum curator, art dealer or artist, Jan communicated in an open and articulate manner.” Wallace continues, “Jan’s legacy lives in the hundreds of works she assisted in placing in museum collections and the thousands of meaningful discussions she had with individuals who inhabit the ever-growing segment of the art world that appreciates works united mind, hand, and heart.”

Peters was a founding board member of the Bead Society of Los Angeles and co-organized their first event—a successful symposium on the Queen Mary in Long Beach harbor. Jan also served on the boards of the Collectors of Wood Art, the Los Angeles Glass Alliance, the National Basketry Organization, and annually helped del Mano raise money for the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF+), whose mission is to protect and support the careers of craft artists and provide emergency resources for their benefit. Ever generous with her time, she was a member of the Design Review Board of the San Vicente Scenic Corridor where the gallery was located for many years, and served on the board of The Boys and Girls Club of Venice.

In 1992 Peters was the recipient of the “Medallion Award” from the Boys Clubs of America. In 2001, she and Ray Leier jointly received the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the non-profit organization Collectors of Wood Art.

Friends and associates point out that the same qualities making her a great art dealer—high standards, vision, and perseverance—enabled her to valiantly fight a twelve-year battle with ovarian cancer, serving on the Patient Advisory Board at the Samuel Oschin Cancer Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center while continuing to be positive and focused on her work.

Born Janet Schwartz on April 5, 1947, she was a 1965 graduate of Fairfax High School in Los Angeles and attended UCLA before deciding to pursue a career as a bead jewelry artist before founding del Mano Gallery with Ray Leier.

She married photographer, illustrator and aviator, David Peters in 1982. Along with him, she developed a passion for vintage aircraft, approaching the world of flying with her usual fearlessness and enthusiasm. The couple regularly attended air shows where Jan took part in activities at many of the events. She also flew as crew aboard the B-25 bomber, Heavenly Body. Jan and David were regulars at the annual Reno Air Races. In 2001, Jan was given the “Volunteer of the Year” award by the Reno Air Race Association.

“Jan was my navigator in this life,” says David. “She gave me my wings and the freedom to follow my passions by joining me in experiencing them. She nurtured my creative side—for example, when I said I was going to make teapots, she said ‘Ok, let’s see them.’ I took up the challenge and now show regularly at the gallery.”

“She fit into many worlds,” he comments, “she was at home anywhere, including on a trip with her sister Dale through Eastern Tibet in 2009, the dream of a lifetime.

Jan is survived by David, her husband of thirty years and her sister, Dale Carolyn Gluckman of Los Angeles, as well as two nieces, a nephew, and many cousins.

A “Celebration of the Life of Jan Peters” will be held from 1-4 p.m. Sunday, January 8, 2012 at 7947 Woodley Ave, Van Nuys, CA. Please contact or (310) 441-2001 with questions or to RSVP for the Celebration. Please note: del Mano Gallery will be closed to celebrate the holidays from December 25th to January 2nd. Messages left during this time will be responded to on January 3rd.

The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in Jan’s memory to CERF+, P.O. Box 838, Montpelier, VT 05601; phone: (802) 229-2306 or When reviewing your donation on-line, please note it is in memory of Jan Peters.

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