Will Petersen Biography

Will Petersen



Printmaker and painter Will Petersen was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1928, the oldest of three born to German immigrants Robert Petersen and Minni Eder. As a teen he contracted polio and spent much of his high school years at home; however, he worked as the Steinmetz High School newspaper's cartoonist, succeeding his predecessor Hugh Hefner.

His formal art education began in 1947 at Chicago's Wilbur Wright College, studying painting and theater arts. In 1950 he enrolled at Michigan State University where he earned his BA and MA, taking lithography from John S. deMartelly. He also began exhibiting nationally, beginning with the Detroit Art Institute, the Terry Art Institute (Miami), the National Print Exhibition (MI), and the Boston Printmakers, where he earned first prize. A painting was also included in the Momentum Mid-Continental Chicago exhibit, which garnered reproduction on the cover of Art Digest magazine, a coveted commission at the time.

After graduation in 1952 Petersen was drafted into the United States Army, sent to Korea and then to Japan. There he worked as an education specialist in Hokkaido, and he became enamored of the rural landscapes and Japanese customs, theater, and calligraphic arts. This experience would remain central to his output for the rest of his life. Upon his return to the states in 1955 he moved to Oakland, California. He cofounded the Bay Printmakers Society artist Mel Strawn and became involved with the Beat artists and poets, whose works he sometimes printed in his studio. He resumed exhibiting and enrolled in the California College of Arts and Crafts (now the California College of the Arts) under the GI Bill and earned his MFA while Diebenkorn was on the faculty.

Upon graduation from CCAC, he returned to Japan to further his studies in printmaking and calligraphic painting. He taught English to earn enough money for a lithography press, and built a studio in the countryside. He resumed exhibiting with the Kyoto Printmakers, winning a Suda Award at an exhibition at the Kyoto Museum of Art, the first to be awarded in printmaking. In 1965 Petersen secured a faculty appointment at Ohio State University, teaching drawing, painting and printmaking. In 1969, he moved to Michigan to help set up artist John Wilson's Lakeside Studio, where he worked as the master printer before accepting a position at West Virginia University. He taught there until 1977 when he decided to quit teaching entirely and pursue a publishing career. He founded Plucked Chicken, an art and poetry publication, and the following year he and his wife, Cynthia Archer, established Plucked Chicken Press, which they later moved to Chicago and then Evanston. They would print and publish the works of Richard Hunt, Don Crouch, Art Kleinmann, Renie Adams, David Bower, David Driesbach, Carl Hayano, Ben Mahmoud, and Winifred Godfrey, among others, as well as their own lithographs. Petersen died in 1994.

Petersen's prints and paintings are included in more than 140 museums and private collections around the world, including the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris; The Art Institute of Chicago; Illinois State Museum, Springfield; and theMary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, Evanston.