It was a clear, brisk winter morning along the Merrimac River. Annemarie Smith (NAA Assistant Director) and I had finally scheduled a long planned visit with Peg Dalton. Fellow NAA artist member and dear friend of Peg’s Peggy Omer joined us, as did the lovely Kate Richards who is one of her dedicated caretakers. We met with Peg at her home in Amesbury, MA.
Peg was one of the very first “old timers” I met when I arrived at the NAA – five years ago - and even then I was stunned by her stamina and enthusiasm. Over these last few years, Peg has become a role model for me – she is the personification of “aging gracefully” while bearing chronic, debilitating back and leg pain. I was eager to invite Peg to tell us her story and about her affiliation with the NAA.
Peg was born the 9th of June 1919. She is 96 years old today. Peg became a member of the Newburyport Art Association in 1950; she has remained a member for the last 65 years and seen a lot of changes over the years. Peg became involved before the NAA occupied its current home at 65 Water Street. A small group of interested artists would gather in venues across Newburyport. Initially disappointed by a dance held to try and organize NAA membership that proved unsuccessful, she remained steadfast, and with other artist friends, stayed involved. During the 1960s membership hovered around 60 (one tenth of what it is today). In 1968 the NAA purchased the 1795 building at 65 Water Street and became a full-fledged not-for-profit organization in 1971.
During the 1970s one of Peg’s close artist colleagues, Margette Leanna, began to introduce some changes at the NAA aimed at creating a more rigorous art association. One of the big changes Peg witnessed during this period was the introduction of outside jurors for the NAA exhibitions – this strengthened the tenor of the association for artist participants and visitors to the NAA. Officers of the Association were introduced to lead and coordinate the work of the NAA. Peg herself would go on to serve as President of the Newburyport Art Association between 1982 and 1983.
Much of Peg’s legacy at the NAA stems from her role as an instructor. It was Mildred Hartson, one of the NAA’s founding members, who encouraged Peg to take up the teaching of art. Peg taught art to elementary school children for 30 years – she focused her teaching on drawing and still life images. Classes took place once a week with 6-7 students in each class.
Peg was married for 60 years to Howard who was the founder and owner of a local manufacturing company. Howard died in 2004 and Peg established an award program in his memory at the NAA – each Spring the NAA recognizes the work a young artist with the Howard A. Dalton Memorial Award. After Howard died, their son took over the business. He and his two sisters remain in the area and assist with Peg’s care. Despite her health challenges, Peg continues to enter work in NAA shows and assist with the jury days, still alongside her friends Margette and Peggy. She delights in sharing that her granddaughter Jennifer graduated with a degree in art therapy and now works in the field. Jennifer says that she owes her passion and career to Peg. I can see Peg's eyes twinkling as I recall her telling us this story.
When asked what the highlights have been for her at the NAA, she points to three specifics: 1) the opportunity for all artists to enter a juried show, 2) moving away from the early “club” culture of the association, and 3) retaining the participation of professional artists which she claims has increased the quality of the work over the years three-fold.
We wrapped up our visit with some light-hearted questions:
How did you become interested in art?
In my 20s, I had a friend who was also interested in art and my father always drew.
Do you have a favorite subject?
Is there a genre of art that you like or dislike particularly?
I am not fond of abstract art.
What do you consider your greatest accomplishment in art?
Having my work accepted into juried shows and teaching children.
What is your most prized possession among your art tools?
A really good brush is most prized when painting, good bristles are a must.
Is there a journey or trip you remember with special fondness?
I remember the first time Howard and I drove the RV and our car all the way to Florida. He drove the RV and I drove the car, alone, for any distance, for the first time – and I did it! We would make the same trip for many years after.
Who would you come back as?
An Impressionist artist.
What is your least liked phrase in art?
“It’s done. I can’t do anything more to it.”
What is your motto?
…she thought a long time about her answer and we were happy to wait as we knew it would be important…
It was an honor to have this time with Peg.
Posted by Elena Bachrach, ED, NAA