In the 1950s the Horn of Plenty Gift Shop in Sturbridge featured the work of Massachusetts’ resident artist Peter Ompir. Now, fifty years later, Ompir’s highly-collectible, distinctive, freehand painted items are still displayed in the antique shop located at that same site.
Considered one of America’s premier folk artists, Peter Ompir has been christened many names—the “Dean of American Toleware,” the “Dean of Décor Painting” and the “Father of American Decorative Painting.” In an article written by Phillip C. Myer for Craftworks magazine, Myer noted that Peter Ompir’s prolific career stands as a testament to his name, which translates as “Peter the Great.”
Having studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the National and American Art Academies during the Depression era, Ompir created a niche for himself by painting antiques and common household items such as breadboards, colanders, pitchers, wooden shoes, tin trays, pails, chairs. He painted anything “I could get my hands on, from cigarette boxes to anything old or new,” Ompir told an interviewer.
His fine art training, exceptional talent, and his love of unusual antique pieces enabled him to create beautifully rendered decorative objects that seem to reflect the ages, but were, in reality, newly painted.Ompir achieved authentic coloration by mixing his own paints and utilizing his proprietary antiquing process. The method was labor intensive, often taking weeks to complete one piece. Two or more coats of a bold-base, flat paint were first applied to the object. Next, a design such as fruits, flowers, birds, or folk art figures was painted.
Ompir mixed his own bright and bold colors since his exclusive antiquing process would mellow and “age” the tones, creating his signatureantique appearance. Lastly, additional over-painting of detail work was performed before thin coats of varnish were applied.
There was a great demand for Ompir’s work in his day. His pieces sold in notable stores such as Macy’s, Neiman-Marcus, Sloan’s of New York, and Meier & Frank. Since each piece took weeks to create, Ompir solicited help in the long preparatory process required on each item. Two artists, Warner Wrede and later Porter Rinehouse, assisted Ompir in his workshop in Masachusetts.
Ompir decorated objects are highly collectible and there is a very good market for his works. They remain a sound investment for the serious antique collector. For example, we had a spectacular Peter Ompir pail featuring a red boiler steam locomotive under a full head of steam on the front with fancy scrollwork on the sides and a burst of flower-like petals on the back. The piece was artist signed on the underside and was valued at $1,125.00.