George Peterson; Executive And Artist

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 26, 2008

George A. Peterson, 65, a retired vice president and director of educational media at the National Geographic Society who had a successful second career as an artist, died of a brain tumor Nov. 21 at his home in Washington.

Mr. Peterson joined the National Geographic Society in 1970 as a photo editor and writer in the educational filmstrip department. With the advent of the personal computer in the 1970s and 1980s, he led the society's early efforts to produce software. Collaborations he arranged with Apple Computer, IBM and filmmaker George Lucas's Lucasfilm produced technological breakthroughs, including the production of the first CD-Rom containing full-motion digital video.

An early advocate of employing communications technology in schools, he produced National Geographic KidsNetwork, a program that enabled students to gather, analyze and exchange data that they had collected from their science experiments. He also started the society's Geography Education Program, an effort to improve geography instruction through teacher-training institutes across the country.

Mr. Peterson began to paint during his 26-year career at the society. When he retired as vice president and director of educational media in 1996, he took up the brush full time.

He described himself as an "objective" painter. His subjects are recognizable, one reviewer noted, "but he's most interested in interactions of color, texture, line and shape. The unifying element of his work is objective form, expressively rendered."

Black bears were a favorite subject, as were cows. "I paint cows, because I grew up on a dairy farm," he told the Catskill Mountain Foundation. "And I paint cows in series, because I find that their bulky mass lends itself to experimentation with color combinations and infinite variations in color and texture. But true to my roots as an 'objective' painter, I try to capture the essence of the cow personality in each of my paintings."

Mr. Peterson's paintings have been exhibited at the Vanderbilt Gallery on Nantucket, in Massachusetts; at the Catskill Mountain Foundation in Hunter, N.Y.; and at the Foundry Gallery in the District. His work was exhibited internationally through exhibitions organized by the State Department.

He contributed two paintings to "Faces of the Fallen," an exhibition of portraits of Iraq and Afghanistan war casualties at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

George Arvid Peterson was born Jan. 6, 1943, in Trenton, N.J., and grew up on a dairy farm in nearby Hopewell, N.J. He was a graduate of the private Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and he graduated from Princeton University, where he played varsity hockey, in 1965. He received a master's degree from Columbia University's journalism school in 1970.

His marriage to Murray Spalding ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 10 years, Elizabeth "Ibby" Jeppson, and two stepchildren, Lizzie O'Leary and Jake Jeppson, all of Washington; his stepmother, Janet L. Gaston of West Palm Beach, Fla.; a brother; and a sister.

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