John Frederick Peto, the renowned, late 19th century
still-life artist is often called the American
Peto built his
Queen Anne style house and studio at 102 Cedar St.
in Island Heights in 1890. The 2 1/2 story house,
with its hipped roof, dormers, tower and gables, was
home for his family. The building also included a
large studio at the rear of the house. There Peto
surrounded himself with simple, utilitarian objects
that were models for some of his greatest
Today those same
objects - the rusted horseshoe, musical instruments,
lard oil lamp, umbrella, delicate china pitcher with
matching cup and saucer, along with mugs and pipes -
all adorn the walls and rafters of the Peto Studio
so lovingly maintained by his granddaughter, Joy
attended art school in Philadelphia in the mid
1880's. He needed to supplement his income, so he
came to Island Heights after 1887 to play his
coronet at the Camp Meetings, held at the meeting
place Philadelphia department store magnate John
Wanamaker created for his employees to spend
vacations. Wanamaker Hall still stands in Island
Heights, near the Municipal complex.
was drawing big crowds of Philadelphians on the Long
Branch and Philadelphia Railroad, which came to the
new resort. A railroad spur, which crossed the
river from Pine Beach, dropped off passengers on the
north side of the river. After discharging its
passengers, the train backed up across the river to
the south shore,.
artistic eye, Peto found the quiet scenic Island
Heights an ideal place in which to create his art.
He spent the rest of his life in Island Heights,
painting still life canvas after canvas.
During his life
and throughout the first half of this century Peto
was relatively unknown in the art world. For years
his work was labeled as an imitation of the
paintings of William Michael Harnett, a noted
Victorian still life artist who was a fellow art
student of Peto's in Philadelphia who forged his
name on Peto's work.
Peto was one of
the masters of "rack" paintings, which juxtaposed
unrelated simple objects, such as postcards, torn
theater or railroad tickets, portraits and tattered
newspaper clippings. These commonplace and
discarded motifs became the trademark of the
American trompe de l'oeil school of painting during
the period between 1870 and 1900.
Gallery in Washington, DC, in its 1983 series of
exhibitions devoted to significant American artists,
presented a one-man show of the works of John F.
Peto. The exhibition entitled, "Important
Information Inside: The Still Life Paintings of John
F. Peto," ran for five months in the National
Gallery, the first comprehensive show in nearly 30
years honoring this late 19th century still-life
became a mecca for artists. Its' bluffs, the boats
on the river, the stately Victorian homes, the yacht
club and the small camp meeting houses have
provided artists with countless subjects to splash
onto a canvas.
"The Studio, "
Peto's gallery and museum, is open to the public by
appointment only, through Joy Smiley. There is a
donation requested. Joy Smiley also accommodates
guests for bed and breakfast.
Written by Pauline
S. Miller, May 1, 2000, reprinted with her