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A READING GROUP GUIDE
For
THE SEARCH FOR PETER HUNT

By Lynn C. Van Dine

(ISBN 0-9711835-4-6, $34.95, January 2003)

 

-- Peter and the author continuously argue over the "truth" of the artistís life. Peter Hunt argues that a person can invent his or her own truth. The author argues that the truth of a life is told through the facts and actions taken in a life. Whoís right? Or is there another way to discern the truth of a life lived?

-- Discuss the use of the "ghost" conversations as a method for separating the truth from the lies. Does it work for you as a reader? Why or why not?

-- Peter Hunt begins life in a New Jersey tenement. How typical was his story compared to other immigrant stories of the time? How did it differ?

-- Would Peterís life have been as successful if he told people about his early days in a New Jersey tenement? Wouldnít people have admired his ability to rise above? Or was he rightÖthat the only way to make his way into better and better circles of contacts was to invent a heritage of money and power?

-- Although well known as a cosmetics icon and collector of ostentatious jewelry, it happens that Helena Rubenstein was not only key to Peterís success as an artist, but also one of the first collectors of primitive and folk art in America. Do you think her interest nurtured the folk art, and later, the growth of American contemporary art?

-- Peter Hunt struggled all his years in Provincetown to be considered an artist, but most of the painters and sculptors considered his work largely decorative. Still, many of the same people considered Pa's untrained, primitive paintings brilliant art. What do you think? Was Peter's work art? Was Pa's? Is folk art or primitive art "real" art?

-- Peterís relationship with his parents changed over the years, especially once he became successful and moved them to Provincetown. How would you characterize his relationship with each parent? With Pa as he became famous?

In the course of the book, Peterís ghost slowly seems to lose interest in his book and eventually disappears altogether. Why?

-- In his life, Peter was deliberately vague about his sexual orientation. However, he could more openly pursue relationships with both men and women in Greenwich Village, and later, Provincetown. Do you think he used sex, or, more appropriate to the time, lavish flirtation, to further his career? If so, did it help?


-- One woman who knew Peter in the forties said that wealthy women who took Peter to social affairs and events "wore him like a bauble, like a charm on their charm bracelets." Peter, in turn, used their social position to enhance both his social position and his sales. Was that just a practice of the time, or does some form of that social behavior still exist? If it does, how much impact do you think it has on the development of artists, writers and creative people in America?

 

Bonus Question for groups that have also read Razorís Edge by Somerset Maugham:

-- Do you think that Hunt might have been at least in part the inspiration for the Templeton character in Somerset Maughamís The Razorís Edge as the author suggests? If Hunt were the inspiration, does Maughamís treatment reflect well or poorly on Hunt?

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