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Peter Sheehan





by RJ Smith

After getting into a horrible accident, Peter Sheehan’s love for art was solidified. Eventually, Sheehan earned a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture. One of his sculpting projects—a tall, metallic structure —  is kept outside the Sojourner Truth Library at SUNY New Paltz. Sheehan also practices earth art,  a form of art that Sheehan compares to  creating a painting. It involves raking the land using machinery and shaping hay into rectangular shapes. Sheehan also considers earth art to be a form of farming.


You said that you came from a literary artistic family. What kind of impact did that have on your artistic development?

When I was a child, I painted all the time. Especially on the walls, which my mother wasn't happy about. I also played a lot of sports, but I got into a near fatal accident. It took me a long time to recover. My father decided to take me and my family to Paris. That accident changed my life. It was a compound fracture in my leg. Afterwards, I became interested in creating art.


After the accident you had, how did you begin crafting artistic pieces?

Well, after I went back to school, I was living off campus, and I started to practice drawing and painting. I took all the art courses I could— art history and life drawing were among them. I would invest in canvases, do some drawing and painting. My professor was very influential in my development as an artist. He was very positive and reinforced what I was doing.


You grew up in Boston. How did it shape you as an individual?

I didn’t like Boston. It was a town full of prejudices. I went to school with people who were the same way. I grew up with a lot of black people working in my home. Sam Parker was one of them—a wonderful man. I couldn’t understand the prejudices that people had, which is why I wanted to move away. It was a great place to grow up—the museums were wonderful. As for shaping me as a person? I wouldn’t say it did much of that.


Who was Sam Parker to you?

He was very important to my life growing up. He worked in the cotton fields, he taught me a lot about planting things. Growing up, he was like a second father to me.  He was a very honorable man, a very big influence on me. He taught a lot about life, about how to be a human being.

What was your life like after earning your degree in fine arts?

After earning my degree, I went down to New York City to study visual arts. Well, my first wife got pregnant, so I had to drop out. I went to work at Rockland State Hospital. It was a crazy house. The attendants were crazy and the patients were crazy. I taught art there, along with lots of things.


I notice that you have a photo on the table  of SUNY New Paltz’s campus, featuring a large sculpture. To craft an artistic piece like that, what was the process like?

I made a model. I made the first one out of galvanized sheet metal I bought at the hardware store. It looked exactly like this, except it was in metal. It was quite a big project. Not just artistically, but in terms of engineering.


You’ve said you take inspiration from farming. Would you say that there’s overlap between farming and your artistic pursuits?

Certainly.  I wasn’t selling anything, and I wanted to do something different than making art. I was kind of involved in this area with a farm. I was riding a horse and helping a guy put hay away sometimes. I stayed in Mohawk for five years, milking cows. I made earth art. I consider farming a form of earth art.


What are your thoughts on being a part of a gallery show?

Every artist likes to sell stuff. A lot of people say, “I don’t care, I just make art. I don’t care about selling it.” It’s like being a singer or an actor. Everyone wants an audience. I had some of an audience when I was young. There were a lot of other things that were working on me, so I tried to make money doing art. It’s very difficult, trying to make money off doing art. I was married at the time— I had one child, so I needed money to support that. Now I’m older, and I think it’s great to be in a show.

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