Summer book beat – Brian Peterson’s memoir, The Blossoming of the World

My pile of books is heavy with local fare: In addition to Brian Peterson’s memoir, the books that catalog recent local shows like Arcadia University’s Ai Wei Wei exhibit, the ICA’s Sheila Hicks exhibit and the multi-venue Philagrafika festival.  More on those in another post.

The Blossoming of the World, Brian Peterson‘s follow up to his 2010 memoir, The Smile at the Heart of Things, is a book quite like the first memoir, in which the artist and Michener Museum Senior Curator weaves together biographical material and photographs (a mix of snapshots and fine art photos he’s taken over the years) with essays about life, the universe and spirituality. There’s a whole lot of talk in Blossoming, as there was in Smile, about the question of God. This and other questions about religion affect the writer to the core.  If they don’t occupy your thoughts as much, you can read around them and still have a great encounter with this interesting man.



Blossoming updates Peterson’s current life as a man with Parkinson’s disease who is coping but afraid. The book also includes a kind of “flashback” within it — a grouping of diary entries from the 1980s, written by Peterson at a time when he and his first wife were breaking up, and he was depressed and beginning his serious pursuit of photography. While we are all used to going back and forth in time in books (as well as movies) this insertion of musings from the past into the musings from the present — especially all the musings about God and religion — makes for repetition that some readers will find tiring (I did). But Peterson’s writing is so fluid and beautiful and the artist is such a charming tale teller about himself that when he’s full-speed-ahead narrating an anecdote you want to be with him every step of the way.

What I find most interesting are Peterson’s non-religous musings, those about self-image and self-love, for example, in which he uses Oprah in her “fat Oprah” and “skinny Oprah” phases to talk about the difficulty of integrating who you are with who you want to be and the need to love all of yourself. When Peterson muses about his life and calls childhood “a genocide of the soul” and compares himself to a rape victim, my blood ran cold as I imagined the artist growing up under the tyranny of a Mommy Dearest. Clearly, this is a soul that is still healing from his childhood and broken first marriage. And now he’s beset by a monster disease of the body, from which there’s no escape.

brian peterson
Brian Peterson, image courtesy of Michener Museum website

In the preface, Peterson talks about how with this book he’s making “joy marmalade” and spreading it on the “whole wheat toast of terror.” By time the book ends you see how apt that analogy is.  Peterson is both a joyful person and one who lives with terror every day, the terror of a haunted past and the terror of a present that is fraught with sickness that will get worse, with the promise of his own death looming large.


The 256-page book is full of images, 84 in all, most of them Peterson’s own photographic images. In addition to snapshots of the author, his wife, his mom and dad, there are his fine art photos — black and white shots of nature and color images that are either photo montages or that seem manipulated to show motion and convey a mysterious realm where rocks, trees, rivers and people are phantoms and everything is beautiful — though slippery.

This fine book by the multi-talented, thoughtful and gifted local writer and artist has lots to love about it. And while its ratio of musings to anecdote is skewed towards the former, it’s a great read when you’re sledding with Peterson through the anecdotes of his life.

The Blossoming of the World :
Essays and Images 
by Brian H. Peterson
July 2011
ISBN-13 numbers:

Hardcover: 978-0-9819835-8-5
eBook: 978-0-9829421-6-1
$34.95 US ($44.95 Canada) 
256 pages 84 black-and-white and full-color photos