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Lamar Peterson in Star Tribune

Three tiny hairless dogs guard the entrance to Lamar Peterson's garden. Bea, a 7-year-old Xoloitzcuintli and Chihuahua mix with no teeth and a pink tongue, is the smallest but barks the loudest. The other two pups, Daisy, 6, a Xoloitzcuintli, and Moo, 8, a Chinese Crested, try to overtake Bea's bark, but to no avail.


"They're extremely protective and Bea, she'll bark when I walk her … well, she'll just bark all the time," Peterson said. "It's funny, me walking with this multi-pronged leash."


Peterson cares for the luscious, wonderland-like garden with his partner, Michael Templeton, in the backyard of their south Minneapolis home. Variously colored pots spill over with greenery, oval-shaped silver raised planter beds with seedlings just hatching and satchels piled high with dirt cover the ground, making any grass barely visible.


Peterson is a painter with a fierce gardening hobby. The two are intertwined, particularly in his recent paintings that focus on gardening as an act of self-care. A native Floridian, Peterson moved to Minneapolis from New York in 2011 to teach at the University of Minnesota. Now, he's associate professor of art and director of undergraduate studies and is more rooted here than ever.


This spring, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship for $65,000. He'll head to Georgia, where his dad, Jesse "Pete" Peterson, painted many murals, like one of a Black Jesus on a church in Quitman, Ga. His dad was a prolific painter but didn't become a known artist.


"The project will focus on investigating marginalized artists and artists of color, Black artists in Georgia in the South, shedding light on artists that were important to our communities but weren't able to achieve exposure to be more well known," Peterson said.


His father died of cancer in 2022. When he goes to Georgia in fall 2025, he plans to look for his father's murals and those of other forgotten artists. He also hopes to take his mom, Penny Peterson, who still lives in Florida. Peterson's dad inspired him to become an artist.


"He had the ability to paint and draw and wanted to be an artist, but because of having a family he wasn't able to do that," Peterson said.


When Peterson was 12, his dad gifted him his oil paints. He learned to paint by watching PBS painter Bob Ross, checking out books from the library and, of course, watching his dad paint. His dad gave away every one of his paintings. Peterson still checks eBay to see if any will pop up.