“Whatever it is, I’m against it.” If you heard this phrase (a quote from Groucho Marx,) you might think it came from a curmudgeon. Quite the opposite is true.
Peter Landa, late of Easton, was a respected artist, devoted husband, family man, loyal friend, and mentor or coach to a host of Fairfield County youth. He passed away in March of this year leaving behind a legacy of his own fine artwork, photography, and a series of unique large-scale book designs for the retrospectives of respected and renowned contemporary artists. But if you ask what people remember most about him, it is his sense of humor.
His wardrobe consisted of almost 100 T-shirts and another 50 sweatshirts, mostly depicting sport teams, cartoon characters, Chinese calligraphy, or places he had visited around the world. However, he was not opposed to showing up at a party in a wig of blond curls or frizzy red hair. He would do most anything if it would get a laugh. Once, he volunteered to be a Christmas tree and sported tinsel, colored balls, ornaments, and roping. He even showed up at his wedding to Kerrie Mills wearing a tux, Groucho glasses, and gorilla slippers!
Peter loved comic strips, such as Pogo, Shoe, and Calvin & Hobbs, as well as old-time radio comics, good jokes and bad puns. His favorite comics were Jonathan Winters, W.C. Fields and Bob & Ray. He might greet you with the phrase, “How’s your geedis? Mine’s all right.” (No one knows what a geedis is or where this line came from.) If fact, he would often respond to most any kind of question with a line from W.C. Fields “Go away, boy, you’re bothering me,” or he’d leave a party with Bob and Ray‘s signature tag line, “hang by your thumbs, and write if you get work.”
Pete grew up in Maywood, Ill., where he played football, baseball, and basketball before heading to the University of Illinois where he earned a bachelor of fine arts degree and developed deep loves for graphic design and Dixieland jazz.
Much of his career was spent at such New York book publishing and fine arts houses as Charles Scribner, Doubleday, and MacMillan where he designed and illustrated scores of novels, such as Mission to Cathy and Redcoat in Boston; as well as a cook book Savor of the Sea; and a children’s book, Man of the House. Later, as vice president and creative director at Greenwich Workshop, Pete was instrumental in developing the artistic foundation that enabled the birth and growth of the Limited Edition Fine Art Print industry through the 1980s and ’90s.
After retiring from the Greenwich Workshop, Pete focused on his own artwork. He had developed a love for Asian farmers and fishermen, villages, land and waterscapes while working for the U.S. Military’s “Stars & Stripes” newspaper in Korea and Japan post-Korean war. In Japan, Pete studied under the master woodblock artist Un’ichi Hiratsuka, the first artist to be given Japan’s national Order of the Sacred Treasure. Primarily using pen and ink, Pete’s work often depicts the beauty of the ports and hillside villages he visited during this time. His work was regularly on display in a number of Fairfield County galleries.
To know just a bit about Peter, one need only to walk into his studio. You would certainly see his work as an artist, a graphic designer and a photographer as well as jars and bottles filled with over 800 colored pens, pencils, and paint brushes, as well as boxes of paper. Most notably, however, as you look from the walls, to extensive table and counters tops, to the rafters, and even on the very floor, you quickly see he was the consummate collector.
Two walls of floor-to-ceiling shelves hold more than 1,500 books, primarily reflecting his love for all things to do with the Far East, including coffee table-sized picture books featuring China, Korea, and Japan but also many other countries he had visited. Books on world-famous artists, among them Vincent Van Gogh and Friedensreich Hundertwasser, as well as “How to” books on painting, drawing, graphic design, and calligraphy nestle (you could even say jostle for space) against anthologies of history, poetry, haiku, and jazz as well as children’s books.
Stacked in cartons on the floor are albums of postal commemorative stamps which he collected over a lifetime, reflecting his love of history and geography. Model trains, CDs of America’s Jazz greats, shadow puppets, sculptures of children, and porcelain dolls of Oriental ladies in artistic poses line shelves. Over 150 pieces of art from acclaimed Asian and American artists are shelved in spaces below the counters while Japanese kites hang from the rafters along with his infamous German toy flying machines called whooper flyers.
Memorabilia collected over a long, successful and productive lifetime will serve to remind those of us he leaves behind of what an eclectic, talented, fun-loving man Pete Landa was. His three sons and seven grandchildren all inherited his athleticism and love of sports. His family, friends and former co-workers remember him as a loving, patient mentor and all around good guy. He will be missed.
Celebration: Art and Photography of the Far East, a retrospective of Pete Landa’s artwork will be on display and for sale at the Easton Public Library, in conjunction with the Easton Arts Council, 691 Morehouse Road, from July 6 through Aug. 31 with a reception on July 23 from 7 to 10 p.m. For additional details go to email@example.com or call (203) 268 3245.