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"Mystery" Artist Surprises Fort Lauderdale Businesses with Paintings

A few days ago, New Times received this interesting tale from Fort Lauderdale activist/blogger Cal Deal, via an email titled "Strange Happening:"

An odd thing happened this morning. A "elderly" man in a beret delivered a shiny gift bag to Dr. Stoll's office across the street from me at about 7:30 a.m. ... before anyone was around. He left it by the front door. Okay, I thought, it's just an delivery for an employee.

But minutes later I noticed the man doing the same thing next door to me, at Moldof's law office. Very odd. The man walks very slowly and deliberately, and his right arm seems locked in position.

Deal watched, and discovered that this mystery man is Peter Dean, a painter who makes pictures of buildings and then tries to sell them. A letter he leaves with each painting contains his phone number. New Times gave him a call. His wife, Dee Dean, answered.

She explained that early in the morning -- when most parking lots are empty -- Peter Dean drives around Fort Lauderdale, looking for a building that inspires him. When he finds one, he parks, gets out of his car, and takes a picture with his good arm -- his left one.

When he's done this two or three times, he'll drive over to Walmart, develop his pictures, then return back home to paint them.

Once they're painted, he'll frame them himself using wood he bought at Home Depot. And then the following week, he'll return to those businesses to try and sell his paintings.

Dean has been doing this in Florida for two years, but he's been painting his whole life. The 77-year-old former contractor graduated from Philadelphia School of Fine Arts in 1960, and has seen beauty in architecture his whole life. "Painting was always his first love," Dee Dean, says. "Now he has time to do it, and he's very happy doing it. He feels very productive."

In 1994, Dean suffered a stroke that left him unable to speak or walk. He spent time recovering at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, CT. There he had to learn to paint with his left hand. He no longer had use of the right one. He taught painting classes to other handicapped people in the rehabilitation center and continued making progress in his own recovery, regaining the ability to walk.

Soon, money issues forced Dean and his wife down to Florida. They've been living off his paintings since the stroke.

"He had his stroke 19 years ago, and we haven't had a paycheck since then. He's been trying his best to get us through. That's what he's doing," Dee says.

Dee helps Peter communicate, but not much else. Peter handles pretty much the entire painting process, from photographing the buildings to framing the paintings.

When they're ready to sell, Peter drives himself to the buildings he's painted and drops a bag by the door. Inside the bag there's a painting of the building and an attached letter of introduction that Peter wrote himself.

Dean doesn't wait for permission to paint a building. He paints first, and then tries to sell them. If a business doesn't want to buy his painting, then he just takes it back home, where it joins the rest of his unsold works. But, according to his wife, this is rarely the case.

"He sells about 80% of his paintings. And I was very skeptical. I said 'what makes you think you're going to go out and paint a picture of somebody's building and they're going to pay you for it?' Well they do. And they love it."

He returns to the businesses in the afternoon to see whether or not they want to buy his painting. His wife usually drives him, because by this time the roads are more crowded, and harder for the 77-year-old stroke victim to navigate. But Peter goes into the business by himself, handling the transactions on his own. He charges $90 for a 12'' x 16'' painting, and $180 for a 16'' x 20'' print.

"I was very skeptical about how this was going to work for him. But it's been very lucrative, and he's enjoying it. He's enjoying contributing," Dee Dean says. "He's always been an inspiration to people -- all his life. He's 77 now. He's outlived a lot of people at that age."

At 77, Peter Dean shows no signs of slowing down. He'd like to continue painting for as long as possible. He also would like to teach painting classes to the handicapped again, but he and his wife are having trouble finding somewhere in South Florida where he can do that.

If you're interested in acquiring a painting from Peter Dean, or if you'd like him to paint your own home or business, the best way to reach him is to call him at home at (954)-251-2696.

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Ryan Pfeffer is Miami New Times’ music editor. After earning a BS in editing, writing, and media from Florida State University, Ryan joined the New Times staff in November 2013 as a web editor, where he coined the phrase "pee-tweet" (to retweet someone while urinating). Born and raised in Fort Lauderdale, he’s now neck-deep in bass and booty in the 305.
Contact: Ryan Pfeffer

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