Delbert Peterson
1926 –  Class of 2012  Artist
Delbert Peterson has produced award-winning artwork for more than 40 years. He began his successful career as a commercial artist but always allowed time for dabbling in the fine arts.  By the 1950s, however, he devoted himself exclusively to fine arts.

Delbert Peterson was born June 10, 1926, in Aurora, Illinois, and graduated from East Aurora High School. He and his wife, Jeanne, were residents of Batavia for more than 35 years before moving to Vero Beach, Florida.  They are the parents of 7 grown children, some of whom reside in the Fox Valley. After completing his military service and working for 9 years as an artist in industry in Geneva and Elgin, he opened his own studio in Batavia.

Delbert’s earliest memories of creating art go back to when he was about 3 years old.  His mother marked off an area under the family’s wall telephone where he was allowed to draw with crayons when she was talking on the phone. When he was only four, she put a flat brush in his hand and sent him to work “painting” the sidewalk a rich shade of brown using only water.

Delbert, or Del as he was called, received praise and support for his artistic ability from his teachers too. When he was in kindergarten, he received extra attention when he was drawing.  During first through fourth grades, he looked forward to “art day” even though it came only once every two weeks.  During the summers of his fifth and sixth grade years, Del remembers his mother suggesting he draw in pencil from the photos they found in newspapers and magazines.

High school was a bonanza for the young artist. Del was able to take art classes for two periods every day and knew this would be his career. Before graduating from East Aurora High School on June 6 of 1944 (“D Day”), Del had already spent a summer at the American Academy of Art in Chicago. He continued studying there afternoons for a short time during his senior year, and then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago in the evenings.

Before he graduated, Del received a scholarship to the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, one of the most prestigious commercial art schools in the country at the time. He studied there for three months in 1944 before enlisting in the Army Air Corps.  World War II was underway, and Delbert Peterson wanted to learn how to fly. During his military service, he took business and accounting classes.

When the war was over, he served in the reserves for more than 5 years. He found it difficult to re-enter art school because of the large number of GIs returning home and entering school at the same time.  He considered becoming an architect (fearful of being an unemployed artist) and studied with the University of Illinois in Elmhurst for a year.  But he was always drawn back to art.

In 1955, after 9 years of working as an artist in industry at Geneva Kitchens and the Elgin Watch Company, Del began free-lancing successfully and opened his own commercial business, the Del Peterson Art Studio. He later changed his professional name to Del Peterson, Advertising, continuing through 1994.  

By 1980, at his home in Batavia at 415 Maple Lane, Del divided his time between painting and taking commercial assignments.  During this period, his painting “Talking It Over,” of a harbor scene in Rockport, Massachusetts, was selected as one of 12 (out of 500) submissions to be featured in the 1980 Artists of America Calendar.  The location he painted is often referred to as “Motif #1” by artists, an old lobster shack in Rockport,
Massachusetts, known as the most often painted building in America. His paintings were selected 3 additional times for this national calendar,in 1993, 2003, and 2004.
Fine art came into play again in 1974 when he joined a local class of art students.  He began receiving instruction from Ruth Van Sickle Ford of Aurora, a charter inductee into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame in 2002, and this led to his being invited to show his fine art in juried shows across the country.  With his selection for competitive and one-person exhibits, Del finally earned the recognition and the cherished blue ribbons he had patiently waited for.

When he started painting seriously in the mid-1950s, Del produced just 3 or 4 works per year.  Twenty years later, he was producing 40 to 50 paintings a year.  He estimated that he has completed 1,400 pieces in his lifetime – so far.
Toward the end of his commercial art career, Del not only continued painting as often as he could, he added teaching art to his résumé. Painting both on location and from photographs he snaps himself, Del shows versatility by creating all sizes of art in acrylic, oil, or watercolor. Commission work has been accepted when he felt it matched his capabilities. His artwork has been put on display in many major national corporations, and can be found in private collections across the United States and in Europe.

Since 1999, visitors have been welcomed at the Peterson studio in Florida, although the couple appreciates a phone call in advance.  Del began teaching watercolor classes at the Vero Beach Museum of Art in 1995. Today, the seats in his classes continue to be the most coveted ones in the schedule. Ellyn Giordano, Art School Manager, said, “Del gives of his time and talent in a generous, gentle and open way that students respond to…Del has mentored a large number of local artists.”

From 1973 to 2011, Delbert Peterson has won dozens of blue ribbons and Best of Show honors.  Some of the more prestigious shows include the Illinois Art Council, Chicago; the Oakbrook Associates and West Suburban Fine Arts Alliance; Watercolor USA, Springfield, Missouri; Rocky Mountain Watermedia Exhibition, Golden, Colorado; Norris Cultural Center, St. Charles, Illinois; Art in Public Places, Vero Beach and Indian River, Florida; Backus Gallery, Four County Juried Show, Fort Pierce, Florida; and the Florida Watercolor Society, 40th Annual Exhibition, Bradenton, Florida.

On April 23, 2010, Delbert and Jeanne Peterson were presented with the Artist Award at the annual Laurel Awards bestowed by the Cultural Council of Indian River County at the Riverside Theatre in Vero Beach, Florida.  Nominated by the Vero Beach Art Club, a sizable organization of more than 400 people, the Petersons were honored for “their tireless efforts on behalf of supporting the work of the organization.” Together they handled the publicity and marketing for numerous events, including Art by the Sea, Art in the Park, and Under the Oaks, which attracted talented artists from all over the United States.

In essence, Delbert Peterson has been focused on art for at least 82 of his 85 years.  He has perpetuated the watercolor painting and teaching techniques he first learned from Ruth Ford, and said, “You need to be thick-skinned in this business. I owe so much to that lady – she was really instrumental in developing me…” After her death in 1989, Del began to teach again and eventually acquired nearly all of Ruth’s students in his own classes.  He has been producing fine art for at least 56 years and has taught art for the past 30 years, currently at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

Del’s work reflects a wide variety of subject matter, including landscapes taken from local scenes, portraits, and reflections of his travel experiences.  He describes his style as “loose.”  He’s proficient in several different painting mediums.  His watercolors were described in 2001 as “a pleasure to view, with strong rich colors and fine handling of light.  He paintings are intriguing – depicting water wonderfully.  It is obvious he has a strong background in drawing and his paintings reflect it.”

When asked to describe his life in art in 2011, Del replied simply, “It’s been a great adventure!”  Very few artists are lucky enough to have an intuitive parent, admiring teachers, plus a supportive family that help to nurture their innate talent, and thus promote their careers throughout their lives.  These factors, plus his talents and skills are the reasons his paintings have been exhibited in Illinois, Florida, Kentucky, Colorado, and Missouri, and are included in the collections of several national corporations and national publications.

During his induction into the Fox Valley Arts Hall of Fame, Delbert thanked his parents and those he was “privileged in life” to be associated with.  “It would be a miracle if God let them know I think of them and thank them for how they contributed to my life.”

Visit www.delbertpeterson.com for more information.
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 Four paintings published in Artists of America calendars