The Remarkable Peter Perez

A person with heart and soul for the arts

By M. Reyna
Published on LatinoLA: December 2, 2009

The Remarkable Peter Perez

I recently met a very interesting person.

A person with heart and soul for the arts:

If not for Peter Perez many would not know of the wonderful tradition of Day of The Dead.

This year he introduced the City of Anaheim to the Dia de Los Muertos Celebration.

By organizing and coordinating the first annual Day of the Dead festival in downtown Anaheim.
I had the honor and privilege to be a part of this wonderful festival.

I know I have been talking about the 300 pink cross project for a long time. But with the help of Peter Perez I will get to finally realize my ambitious dream of having 300 pink crosses at he next day of the dead Festival to represent the "Women of Juarez"

The Remarkable Peter Perez (Original story by HELEN PITT) - Perez was born into a large Mexican family just north of the border in Southern California. Recognized as a talented artist from a young age, one of his best friend's parents took him into her home so he could complete high school, telling him, "Pedro, you can draw your way out of poverty." Which he did.

He got into one of the country's best art schools -- the Pasadena School of Design (editor's note: Art Center College of Design). After graduation, he bought a one-way ticket to New York and became the first Mexican to work on Madison Avenue, in the glory days of advertising in the early 1960s.

He worked as a graphic designer on advertising campaigns for some of the nation's best-known companies. He created the logo for the Ford Cougar and designed the Ford signs for dealers across the nation.

Walk into Whole Foods today and you'll see many products that sport a Perez logo -- from Vermont's Cabot Cheese to Lake Champlain chocolates. The design studio he led in the 1970s in Boston won multiple awards, and its alumni have gone on to work at places such as National Geographic. All of them describe Perez as a mentor, not just as an artist, but also as a person. Even his son asked him to be best man at his wedding. He is also one of the funniest people you will meet, a great storyteller whose conversation is peppered with stories like, Tthe time I had lunch with Tom Wolfe," "When I met Ethel Merman" or a recent favorite from this past summer: "When Tom Hanks bought me sushi."

It's heartening to see so many "newbie's" involved with Petaluma's Day of the Dead celebrations this year. From theater productions to art and music, the scale of the ninth annual celebration has brought in many new supporters who previously would have known little about this lovely Mexican tradition of celebrating lost loved ones.

This success has been due to the work of a very committed bicultural committee of the Petaluma Arts Council, as well as the striking artwork of Peter Perez. Many Petaluman's sport Perez original pieces -- he's done the artwork for the T-shirts promoting Petaluma's Day of the Dead every year since its inception. Many Petaluma walls are adorned with his posters. He is known in the community as one of the city's best-loved dog sitters -- yet few know that outside Petaluma he is one of the nation's most successful Latino artists who has made it his life's mission to make Day of the Dead a national holiday.

Perez came to Petaluma nine years ago to do the design work for Avalon Botanicals and took a house across the road from Oak Hill Park. He met Margie Helm, the founder of Petaluma's Day of the Dead celebrations, at the park while they were both picking up poop. From that random encounter, he has gone on to reconnect with his parents' native Mexican traditions surrounding Day of the Dead.

It's not just the opportunity to draw for this festivity that attracts him, but also the chance to connect with people who have suffered great loss. He lost a brother when he was young and that experience marked him. He has enormous empathy for suffering, in people, dogs and all living creatures. He has gone back to Anaheim, where he grew up, for this year's Day of the Dead to be with his sister, who recently lost her son in a motorcycle accident.

Of course, while there, he's organizing that city's celebrations, and been invited into his old high school's hall of fame.

Last month Peter turned 70 and his sister organized a surprise party with people from all walks of his life from school, through college and work. He was universally described as a great artist -- and the best person many of us have had the good fortune to meet. In his usual modest style, all he said about turning 70 was: "Time flies when you have no idea what you are doing."

Keep your T-shirts and posters promoting Petaluma-ma's' Day of the Dead. They will be valuable some day.

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About M. Reyna:
Varied Artist: painter, poet.
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