DAVE PETERSEN EXHIBIT
MONTGOMERY MUSEUM OF ART AND HISTORY
Tranquility. If there is a theme to Dave Petersen’s new oil and photography show at the Montgomery Museum of Art and History, it is tranquility.
Most of these tranquil places can be found within a 50-mile radius of here, stretching from the Smokies to the Outer Banks. If you have lived around here for even a short time, you will find yourself saying, “I know that place” or “I have seen that.” One recognizable place is the previous location for the MMAH, which was originally the home for a Presbyterian minister. But on closer look, Petersen’s work may show a place like Mabry Mill or McAfee Knob in a different light or covered with snow or even the feathery hoar frost, which only forms under special cold conditions, usually at high elevations.
In order to catch the scene at the right time, Petersen, often accompanied by his son Paul, also a painter and photographer, sometimes endures harsh conditions and waits for the just right moment. The pair often camp out and take a compass with them to determine where the sun will be in the morning. Early Boy Scout training comes in handy.
“Low Clouds Over the Smoky Mountains” required such persistence. The pair drove up to Clingmans Dome in the Smokies to do some photography. Once up on Clingmans Dome they were greeted with low clouds, heavy winds, and blowing rain. After waiting over two hours and with the weather getting worse, they gave up and started driving back down to the campsite. Just as they dropped below the clouds, they saw the distant mountains. The wind and rain had stopped, and there Petersen took a picture that became the basis for the oil painting in this exhibit.
The upcoming show features both oil paintings and photography in about equal numbers, and about half of the photographs are in black and white. Petersen has been compared to Ansel Adams, although the techniques used are different, as digital photography has changed the way artists work. Petersen’s photographs are often printed on stretch canvas.
About a quarter of the works depict scenes in the western United States, where the scenery is decidedly different from that in Virginia. Art works depict tranquil places out west such as Glacier, Yellowstone, Death Valley, the Tetons, the Black Hills, or the deciduous rain forest on Mount Olympus in Washington.
Dave Petersen became interested in art in high school, where he was privileged to study under famed local artist Walter Biggs. Another favorite muse is Richard Schmid, the impressionist or realist, depending upon whom you ask, known for his paintings of the west and the Hudson River Valley. Petersen attended Virginia Western Community College and Madison College (now James Madison University), where he stayed on for a master’s degree, not in painting or photography, but in ceramics. He decided not to pursue a career in ceramics, in part because the expensive gas-fired kilns available in college are not usually accessible to the individual artist. Instead, Petersen taught himself photography. Three years of technical drawing still influence his work, but he likes to loosen up when painting and leave the viewers to find their own paths.
Petersen taught high school art for twenty years and was an assistant principal in Blacksburg. After retirement and the forced isolation necessitated by COVID, he has found more time to pursue his art, more “growing time” as he puts it, or time to reevaluate where to go next. Half of his studio is relegated to photography and the other half to painting, so he seems to be going both directions.
Petersen said, “You can learn a lot about people by what they photograph.” So, Dave Petersen must be a tranquil man.
Dave Petersen’s exhibit will be at the Montgomery Museum of Art and History at 4 East Main Street in Christiansburg from January 3 to February 27. A public reception is being planned for February 2 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m.