Early Successes and WPA Era

As important as Peters’ time outside of Rochester had been, by 1923 the painter was ready to return to Fairport more permanently, where he and his father had recently constructed a separate studio on the family farm. Having gotten much more formal artistic training, Carl Peters was becoming a prolific painter at this point, and worked hard to get his art into shows. In 1924, he won the very first Lillian Fairchild Memorial Award from the University of Rochester. Two years later, he had his debut at the National Academy of Design in New York, and also won his first Hallgarten Prize of the decade, with a second coming in 1928 for his painting Around the Bend. He had his first two solo shows in Rochester, one at the Broadhead Gallery, and another at the Memorial Art Gallery.[11]

The twenties were an important decade for the young artist, and Peters had begun to gain national recognition. However, with all of the positive things happening in his career, the decade was also marked by the death of his father, Frederick Peters, in 1924. Though Frederick had been in failing health for a number of years before his death, the event was still shocking to the Peters family, and took a strong emotional toll on them. After Frederick’s death, Carl became the male head of the Peters family, as he was the eldest son.[12] Despite this tragedy, Carl Peters continued to thrive as an artist, and it was also around this time that he began dividing his time between Fairport, New York, and Rockport, Massachusetts. It had become popular for painters in the Rochester area to go to Cape Ann in the early spring, secure studio spaces, and spend the summers painting. It was on one of these trips, in the Summer of 1929, that Peters met his first wife, Minerva Christine Read. The two settled down in Fairport at the end of the summer, and in the following years, they had two children.[13]

ND 237 P384 A4 2015-001 pg34.jpg
Carl Peters' mural for the Genesee Valley Trust Company, titled "Rochester, Past, Present, and Future."

Also in 1929, Peters’ received the coveted commission for the mural at the Genesee Valley Trust Company, a bank in Rochester that was opening a brand new art-deco building for its headquarters. Ironically, this important moment for Peters’ career coincided with the stock market crash of 1929 that ushered in the Great Depression. With two new children to support, and the entire country struggling financially, this was a difficult decade for Peters, but brought an unexpected new opportunity for his career. Beginning in 1936, Peters was able to be employed by the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Arts Project (WPA/FAP), which he applied to as a muralist. He spent the next few years painting fourteen large-scale public murals, mainly in Rochester high schools, though one was for the Fairport Public Library, and the last for Rochester Academy Medical. The Depression also put strain on his relationship with Christine, and by the late 1930s there was substantial tension between the two. This culminated in their separation in 1940, after Christine informed Carl of her affair with a lifeguard she had met in Manchester. By 1941, just as the Second World War was breaking out, Christine filed for divorce and the two were completely separate, with Christine taking the children with her to Cape Ann. At this time, Peters was finishing up his work with the WPA, and would subsequently leave this era of his career, which no doubt had negative memories due to his financial struggles and tumultuous personal life.[14]

Carl Peters standing with one of his paintings in a gallery in 1931.