Peter Valentine, the artist and eccentric whose Cambridgeport home became a landmark for its bright colors and otherworldly wisdom, died Tuesday at his home, according to Michael Monestime, former executive director of the Central Square Business Improvement District.
“Our beloved Peter Valentine has transitioned into the cosmos,” Monestime said.
The news could not be independently confirmed late Tuesday.
Valentine, 80, has literally colored Cambridge’s culture for years — not just by maintaining his house at Franklin Street and Brookline Avenue as a public art project known as Moose and Grizzly Bear’s Ville, but by his presence, which appears around the city in patchwork homemade clothes of clashing colors, materials and patterns on various missions: On one day setting up a fake wooden laptop to work on, on another to bless the goods in Cambridge Bicycles, as residents recalled on a 2020 thread on Reddit.
He regularly attended city council meetings and spoke during public comments with abstruse messages such as “we need to stop using numbers” or “we are at the moment of the birth of the immortality of the United States of America – if what I have just said were not true, I could not have thought of it.” (As mayors came and went, he was the only person allowed to speak on topics not on a given night’s agenda.)
Calls to the council by Valentine to rename Central Square “Starlight Square” have been made a reality by Monestime, which adopted the name for the BID’s Covid-era outdoor entertainment complex in 2020.
“A big shoutout to my friend, Peter Valentine, for the inspiration and creation of Starlight Square. Without your energy, none of this would be possible,” Monestime said during an opening ceremony on August 7 that year.
Valentine also proposed a photo mural in Central Square’s Graffiti Alley that also became reality, Councilman Quinton Zondervan noted in a February birthday resolution. A 2017 resolution from board members Nadeem Mazen and E. Denise Simmons Peter noted his hundreds of submitted communications that “work to keep us safe … and in balance with his electromagnetic art, deliberate thought and breathing and constant vigilance, ” an allusion to offerings painted outside. Moose and Grizzly Bear’s Ville to educate everyone about his ethos of “Electromagnetic Kung-Fu.”
The house is, of course, a story in itself: In the early 1990s, he convinced the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to give him the Blanche Street house that would become his “metaphysical laboratory”) to get him out of the way of developing the University to get. Park. MIT moved the three-story house to Franklin Street and Brookline Avenue and placed it at the exact corner he had prescribed.
When a cold snap burst a radiator pipe in February 2021, flooding the home’s first and second floors and sparking a crowdfunding campaign by the Central Square BID to raise money for repairs, supporters added more to the story:
Valentine built the fence in 1991 to present what he was interested in and to challenge passers-by to think about what he considered “the boring news media and advertising images and designs projected at people as they live their lives”. It contains wildlife, including the moose – so big and awkward and rich in cosmic knowledge. What particularly captures visitors are the philosophical bits that adorn the fence, along with spiritual insights and universal aspirations.
The site put Cambridge on the map with Atlas Obscura, a compendium of global curiosities worth visiting. The site praised Valentine’s “unstoppable will to create [a] burst of inventive punk rock spirituality in an otherwise bland neighborhood landscape.” Virtual tours of Seen Around Boston are online here and here. Others have also filmed it extensively.
At Valentine’s request, the Cambridge Historical Commission met in 2012 to consider landmarking the fence – submitting the request because it would have frozen the work in time; Valentine would have to consult the commission every time he wanted to change it. But during the process, support for recognizing its importance was heard from Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Rebecca A. Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. In 2014, Cambridge Arts celebrated Valentine’s Fence at the annual River Festival.
It was unclear what would happen to the house now, Monestime said Tuesday.
Valentine leaves family in Amherst. Sister Adrienne Bemak and her husband Rob Okun traveled to Cambridge in 2020 for the opening of Starlight Square, when Okun took to the stage to extol Valentine as a “wizard of the soul, alchemist of the heart, deep thinker , problem solver, psychic healer .”
“Peter Valentine loves Cambridge,” Okun said. “In many ways, he personifies the city’s creativity. His quirkiness, his brilliance.”