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ARTIST PROFILE: Seward has thumb on heartbeat of local arts

May 11, 2017
By STEVE LESTER - Correspondent ( , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID-With some people, it may only take a move to the Olympic Village to free up their creative energies.

Peter Seward was working as a staff illustrator and color separator for a New York City T-shirt company that had the rights to the cartoon show "The Simpsons" before it became popular. Although he expressed no complaints about the job, one could gather that it was not exactly his Holy Grail for artistic expression.

"Since moving here," he said, "I feel like I've gotten a second chance without working a staff job because while doing a staff job I wasn't actualizing my own art. But now I have a renewed passion and affinity for working my own art."

Article Photos

Peter Seward
(Photo provided — Steve Lester)

Seward's journey as an artist, like many in this part of the country, began in some other part of the country. In his case, it was Cleveland, Ohio, where he grew up. He graduated from Columbus College of Art and Design and spent 17 years in New York City before arriving in Lake Placid in 2004.

"I was looking for recreational opportunities while in New York," he said. "When somebody mentioned high peaks I knew I had to go."

Seward's early hiking trips were in Harriman State Park, located about 30 miles north of the city in Rockland and Orange counties. It was there that he met his wife Karen in what touched off a series of coincidences that made it seem as if marriage was his destiny.

"When we met, I had no idea she was a graphic designer and that her family had Midwestern roots like mine," he said.

Seward's father and her uncle were both professional artists in Chicago who knew a lot of the same people, even though they had never met. His older brother is a professional portrait artist, much like her uncle, both of whom hold up John Singer Sargent as the ultimate model to emulate.

If all this wasn't enough, in addition to bumping into her repeatedly on the trails of Harriman State Park, one day he bumped into her at a theater event in the city.

And the rest is history.

Seward's art can take a variety of forms, sometimes wading into the world of political commentary as in a series of projects he called "Stealth Towers" that depicted cellphone towers in wilderness areas where they are often banned. But in this case, they're disguised as pine trees, church steeples, barn silos and flag poles.

"For this, I really had a lot of wind in my sails because I envisioned a large body of work at once," he said. "My hope was to make these look like romanticized Hudson River paintings yet with a modern concern."

With cell towers becoming a more accepted presence and less controversial, Seward turned to drones as another subject.

"Many of them appear as science fiction," he said. "I like to show an otherworldly environment that could be here on earth."

More recently, Seward has turned to the relatively conventional subjects of portrait and figure painting but using the unconventional medium of water colors.

"Lately I've been more interested in work that has no politics," he said. "For me, the fluid meaning of water color approximates the continuousness of flesh. Whereas a landscape painter uses strokes of paint to simulate trees, I'm attracted to how brush strokes can depict the human form.

"I'm trying to separate myself from the oil painting portrait artist, and I'm constantly having to relearn the fundamental essence of water color, which is a riskier medium."

To help pay some bills, Seward also works for his wife's graphic design company, Davidson Design, Inc., and does some freelance illustrating, which is not all bad, he said.

"It's not like I can't have a freelance job that I can feel passionate about," he said.

Seward went on to describe a project-for-hire where a Brooklyn group known as "The Unemployed Philosopher Guild" commissioned him to paint some "secular saint" candles that follow the church sanctuary model resembling tall, thin glasses with wax on the inside and portraits of secular subjects painted on the outside. He did one with a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe, another with novelist James Baldwin, and another with hip hop artist "Macklemore."

Seward has a certain devotion to music as well.

"Although I'm a visual artist, I'm passionate about music and being a facilitator of music," he said.

Seward and his wife bought what is now called the Lake Flower Landing at 421 Lake Flower Ave. in Saranac Lake where you can see his artwork, live performance art, and the premieres of original works by modern composers as part of the monthly "Bakery Concerts" featuring multi-talented Gene Baker, his wife, the accomplished cellist Esther Rogers, and various players depending on what instruments the musical scores require.

Seward also travels about to see what other communities have to offer, such as the Soundwaves summer concert series in Westport, the Loon Lake Live concert series, and the View Arts Center in Old Forge to see if any of their performers might be suitable for venues in or near Lake Placid. He has had some discussions with Upper Jay Art Center Artistic Director Scott Renderer, and with Carol Vossler, founder and artistic director at BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake, both of whom he said "have been receptive to suggestions."

He also co-founded the annual Hobofest music festival in Saranac Lake with Todd Smith.

Whether it's his own artistic creations or musical acts from near and far, Seward keeps busy hands firmly in the mix of the Tri-Lakes arts community to keep it as vibrant as he possibly can.



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