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The New York Times: In a Painter’s Home, Works From Local Closets

The New York Times: In a Painter’s Home, Works from Local Closets


Works by the artist John F. Peto are in the permanent collections of major museums including the Newark Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. But even locals in the small, waterfront town of Island Heights, where he lived and worked from 1889 until his death in 1907, are not always familiar with his name.

“I think the older people who have been around for a while” know of the artist, said Alice Askoff, head curator at the John F. Peto Studio Museum there. “But not everybody.”

Ms. Askoff has lived in Island Heights, population around 1,750, for 61 years; she remembers when Joy Peto Smiley, Mr. Peto’s granddaughter, operated the house where the artist kept his studio as a bed-and-breakfast. Ms. Smiley died in 2002.

Mr. Peto is known for still-life painting in the trompe l’oeil style; his works and belongings dot up to nine exhibition rooms within the 12-room house, which opened as a museum in 2011 after a two-year, $2 million restoration. Mr. Peto had the shingle-style house built the same year he moved from Philadelphia, where he was raised and where he studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The lure of Island Heights may have been its natural beauty. However, his move was motivated by a job playing the cornet at the town’s Methodist camp meetings.

Island Heights, founded in 1878, was originally a religious resort. It is still a “dry” town, meaning the sale of alcohol is banned. It is also an artists’ colony, “a true haven,” Ms. Askoff said.

“There’s something about the light here and the sand and the water,” she said.

Mr. Peto, though, focused on indoor vistas in his work. He was particularly drawn to everyday objects and eventually was celebrated for his ability to trick the eye with his realistic images. In the 1950s, it was discovered that signatures on his work were sometimes painted over and the works passed off as originals by his better-known Philadelphia contemporary William M. Harnett.

“They had a little bit of a different style of painting, but at one point in the ’50s, a Rockefeller let it be known” that he had inadvertently bought a Peto instead of a Harnett, Ms. Askoff said, adding, “So Peto began to be rediscovered after that.” The artist had “another resurgence” in the early 1980s, with an exhibition of his work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, she said.

There are three paintings by Mr. Peto in the museum’s permanent collection, all donated by local patrons. And though Ms. Askoff has borrowed art from galleries for each exhibition, the bulk of the works by Mr. Peto displayed by the museum have come from local private collections.

Many of them have been “hidden away in the back of Island Heights closets,” Ms. Askoff said. The furniture in the two-and-a-half-story house, painted inside and out in vivid Victorian-era colors, never left the premises, though. When the Peter R. and Cynthia K. Kellogg Foundation bought the Peto residence in 2005 and paid for its restoration, many of Mr. Peto’s artifacts were still inside.

Mr. Kellogg had the history of the house researched, “and he saved it” from a developer who planned to tear it down, according to Donald Roberts, a trustee who led a visitor on a recent tour, along with Ms. Askoff. “All the furniture was in the house when Joy died. It was extraordinarily cluttered,” Mr. Roberts said.

Photographs helped determine which pieces were in the house when Mr. Peto lived and worked there, and where they were positioned. Now, the Peto Museum displays several still lifes of household objects he painted alongside the actual items that inspired them. And the items have been restored, as closely as possible, to their 1890s-era settings.

Temporary exhibitions range beyond Mr. Peto’s work to encompass that of other artists. To assemble “Island Heights and Beyond: The Artists’ Colony,” a new exhibition scheduled to open this weekend and run through Aug. 25 at the museum, Ms. Askoff did a lot of “shaking the tree,” as she called it.

“You start looking around, unearthing things, and next thing you know, there are all these connections. You never know what you’re going to find next,” said Ms. Askoff, who is also vice president and chairwoman of the museum’s arts committee. “Island Heights and Beyond,” a multimedia show, will include the paintings by Mr. Peto from the permanent collection, along with more than 70 works culled from about 30 artists who worked, or continue to work, in Island Heights or in nearby towns.

“Sylvia” and “Sketch of Sylvia,” a pair of 1909 portraits by the local artist Carl Buergerniss, who died in the 1950s, for example, are among the works that will be on exhibit. “Sylvia,” a small painting of a young girl, was borrowed from an Island Heights resident. “Sketch of Sylvia,” a smaller, rougher portrait of the same girl, was lent by a different island family. The owners of the two Buergerniss works know each other, but neither knew the other owned a “Sylvia,” Ms. Askoff said.

In addition to collectors, Ms. Askoff’s tree-shaking for the new exhibition extended to the artists.

A small upstairs room is dedicated to artists’ responses to Hurricane Sandy. Island Heights was hit hard by the storm, Ms. Askoff said. The museum was not damaged, but it closed from November until May 4 “to regroup,” she said; normally it would close in January and February only.

During much of that closing, a local resident displaced by the hurricane lived on-site. “We had space for someone, so we wanted to offer it,” Ms. Askoff said. “We have a lot of friends here.”

Without them, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Askoff acknowledged, the Peto Museum would not have many trees to shake, and the paintings it prides itself on presenting would not have materialized.

“Finding works that have been handed down, that all of a sudden show up, is the most exciting thing,” Mr. Roberts said.

“Island Heights and Beyond: The Artists Colony,” through Aug. 25 at the John F. Peto Studio Museum, 102 Cedar Avenue, Island Heights. Open Saturdays and Sundays 1 to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Information: (732) 929-4949 or


Celebrating National Preservation Month

John F.Peto Studio Museum Celebrates National Preservation Month

April 30, 2012 | PRESS RELEASE

ISLAND HEIGHTS, NJ April 24th 2012. Get a front row seat and learn the fascinating inside story of the restoration of the John F. Peto House, on May 24, 2012, at 102 Cedar Avenue, Island Heights, NJ, at 7PM from awarding winning architect, Michael Calafati. Mr. Calafati, principal architect of the restoration project, will help the John F. Peto Studio Museum celebrate National Preservation Month by presenting an illustrated lecture  entitled, The John F. Peto House and Studio: The Restoration Story. The home built in 1889 by the renowned 19th century American still life painter, John Frederick Peto (1854-1904) located in historic Island Heights, remained in the Peto family for over 115 years until it was purchased and restored by a private benefactor. The magnificent restoration, an intensive three year project, received much critical acclaim including the 2010 New Jersey Preservation Award. The home opened as the John F. Peto Studio Museum in May 2011 as a historic house museum documenting the aesthetics, work habits and lifestyle of an important American artist with all original furnishings, artifacts and paintings.

Mr. Calafati, principal of Michael Calafati Architect, LLC, Cape May, NJ, who also serves as the Chair of AIA-New Jersey’s Historic Resources Committee, and is a Past President of Preservation NJ, has a life-long commitment to historic preservation. The lecture will highlight the property’s restoration process through the use of photographic evidence, documentary sources, building “archeology” and conservation.

In addition, guests will have the special opportunity to view the current exhibition, The Art of the Sail: Marine Paintings and Artifacts from the Bay and Beyond following the lecture.

General Admission: $20; Friends Admission $15; Students $10

For more information email or call 732-929-2929.


Artist Abbey Ryan Visits the Peto Museum

Artist Abbey Ryan Visits the Peto Museum

August 12, 2011 | Written by Abbey Ryan

I’ve been doing a lot of traveling this summer (Upstate NY, Westchester County NY, NYC, Eastern Long Island, Maine, the Jersey Shore), and I am getting ready to leave for my workshop in Arizona at Sedona Arts Center (which begins on Monday!). With all my travels (and no laptop), I’ve got many paintings ready to be posted to my blog — and I have lots of experiences to share.

Last week, I visited the remarkable John F. Peto Studio Museum in Island Heights, NJ. This year, I’ve been doing some reading about American painting, and earlier this year became re-acquainted with John Frederick Peto (1854-1907), “an important late nineteenth-century figure in the trompe l’oeil school of American still life painting,” who also happened to be born in Philadelphia. (!) The John F. Peto Studio Museum features the home and studio of Peto.

Coincidentally, this summer I was lucky enough to get to know a fellow Art in the Open artist, who just happens to be one of the amazing folks taking care of restoring Peto’s Studio in nearby New Jersey. So, along with the generosity of one of my amazing high school art teachers, I was fortunate to be taken on a private tour of Peto’s studio and home.

It was incredible, to say the least! I got to walk through Peto’s home, see much of his original furniture, spend time in his studio, study the light cascading through his north-facing windows, and see his brushes and still life objects up close! I don’t even know which was my favorite part because it was all so memorable.

The Island Heights community is doing a phenomenal job with the Museum, and if you are looking to make any donations this year, I highly recommend you consider giving to the Peto Studio Museum (it’s a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization – all donations are tax deductible). Anyway, I was lucky enough to see the actual objects pictured in the painting to the right — and they were set up just as they are in the painting. I can’t wait to go back and visit!

Visit her blog and read the original article here.


Letter to the Editor from Freeholder Vicari

Letter to the Editor from Freeholder Vicari

July 4, 2011

Recently I had the privilege to serve as honorary chairman for the opening of the John F. Peto Museum in Island Heights. Located at 102 Cedar Avenue, the restored home of the renowned American still-life painter is not only a tribute to Peto, but is a new cultural center in Ocean County.

Visitors will find the home restored to its original 19th century glory. Guests will visit Peto’s personal studio, where he worked from 1890 to 1907, and marvel at the century-old artifacts and furnishings that actually adorned the home when the artist lived there.It was a real pleasure to meet Joanne Moy and the members of the board of trustees along with other volunteers who have brought the Peto home and studio back to life. I thank them all for their important contribution in preserving the county’s rich history.  I also want to thank Tim Hart and the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission for their efforts to preserve this historical structure. In 2009 the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored the project with an Ocean County Preservation Award for the most ambitious private restoration of a private home in the county’s history.I encourage everyone to visit the Peto museum and enjoy both the history inside, and the beautiful riverfront outside that has inspired artists, and will continued to inspire for generations to come.
Joseph H. Vicari
Freeholder Director



Home of Little-Known Artist John F. Peto Opens as Island Heights Museum

Home of Little-Known Artist John F. Peto Opens as Island Heights Museum

June 18, 2011

By Laura Martin, Asbury Park Press

Today the average John F. Peto painting sells for between $50,000-$75,000 per piece. Yet the American still-life artist was virtually unknown when he died in 1907.

“He painted for his own pleasure and to pay the bills; he wasn’t trying to be famous,” says Island Heights resident Alice Askoff.

Peto began to gain recognition in the 1940s when it was discovered that many William Harnett paintings — which were more popular and more valuable than Peto’s — were actually Peto paintings that had been forged to appear as Harnett’s pieces, according to Askoff. That revelation skyrocketed Peto’s work, and today it can be found in some of the most respected art institutions in the world.

Still, many of the residents of New Jersey and even Island Heights — a place Peto called home for the last 18 years of his life — aren’t familiar with the painter.

“It is astonishing how many people don’t know who he was,” Askoff says.

Hoping to change that, Askoff, along with a small group of other Island Heights residents, formed a nonprofit organization and opened the The John F. Peto Studio Museum at 102 Cedar Ave., Island Heights, on May 29, after more than three years of planning and restoration.

Click here to read the rest of the article


Джон Ф. Пето Studio Museum Торжественное открытие гала

John F. Peto Studio Museum Grand Opening Gala

May 29, 2011

On May 29th, The John F. Peto Studio Museum will hold a Grand Opening Gala to celebrate the opening of the Studio Museum.

Update: Thank you to everyone for making the Grand Opening Gala a huge success!  Nearly 250 guests attended to celebrate the the opening.