Dr. Peter C. Keller (1947 - 2022)
Bowers Museum President & CEO
In Loving Memory
After over three decades of leadership, it is with the greatest sadness that the Bowers Museum family announces the passing of President and CEO Dr. Peter C. Keller. Those who knew him well understood that, in many ways, his final day was an ideal one for him - putting in a full day of work in preparation for the opening of an exceptional exhibition that he was very proud of, Guo Pei: Art of Couture, followed by dinner with his wife. Click here to read full press release.
“With his leadership and experience, we have brought amazing exhibits from all around the world to Orange County.” – Anne Shih, Bowers Museum Chairwoman of the Board of Governors
In lieu of flowers, Dr. Keller's family asks that donations be made to the Bowers Museum. These funds will be used to continue his legacy and grow his favorite permanent collection exhibition Spirits & Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands. Click here to make a donation.
Peter Keller by Chris Rainier
".....I have had the great privilege of being an explorer for most of my life. So, when I first met Peter in the 1990’s we naturally became quick friends. We met first to discuss his passion - gems. He had read my grandfather’s account of opening up a Chivor emerald mine in the rugged mountains of Colombia, - fighting off bandits in the 1930’s. As I entered his office he had a copy of my grandfather’s book of that adventure – called Green Fire in his hand. With that trademark twinkle in his eyes, we instantly hit it off and spent several hours sharing stories of adventures in far flung places like the Himalayas and Antarctica.
So whenever I would pass through Los Angeles we would gather, and often share a wonderful dinner with Signe. Trading adventure tales with Peter was always great fun. A dialogue would often go something like this. Have you been to New Guinea? "Yes, Signe and I canoed the length of the Sepik River – that was our honeymoon”! How about Bhutan “Yes! Ed and I bicycled all around that Himalayan Kingdom!” Iceland – “Yup I circumnavigated it on a mountain bike!” How about seeing the Mountain Gorillas in Africa “Yes – we did that – it was fantastic!” Then I would ask, is there anywhere you haven’t been? “…The South Pole! And Ed, Signe and I are going there in a few weeks!” Peter was a ferocious explorer of the world – having the gift of curiosity that allowed him never to become jaded or run out of places to see and explore. We shared a common love of adventure books, and more than once occasion I would get an email from Peter “Chris, I know you are on your way to Timbuktu – have you read this fascinating account of someone riding a camel across the Sahara Desert to find the lost City of Timbuktu!”
Peter and I also shared a love and passion for New Guinea. And his love and deep commitment to the place, its culture and art are represented in the permanent collection exhibition: ”Spirits & Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands “ here at the Bowers Museum. Whenever I walk through the exhibition's remarkable collection of art – I will always think of the spirit, sense of true adventure,- and joy of Peter.
He was one of the great explorers and storytellers of our time – always with that twinkle in his eye – I will deeply miss him...."
It brings me much pleasure to report the Bowers had a booming spring and summer since our last biannual Passport was published in March. We closed our Disney exhibit, All That Glitters: The Crown Jewels of the Walt Disney Archives in June, and our exhibits team did an amazingly quick turn around to open the California Art Club’s 111th Annual Gold Medal Exhibition. Consisting of well over 200 paintings and sculptures, this exhibition showcased over 100 of the most talented contemporary-traditional fine artists in California. Audience response was so overwhelming that we extended the closing date by three weeks!
Meanwhile, we continued to enjoy the success of another important featured exhibition that opened in February, Everest: Ascent to Glory. Curated by internationally renowned anthropologist Wade Davis and presented in partnership with the Royal Geographical Society in London, Everest closed at the end of August after a very successful run.
Along with our exhibits, we continue to have a very dynamic program department which has literally filled the events calendar. I would like to highlight our May 15 talk by noted explorer, Rick Ridgeway, who spoke about his new book Life Lived Wild, and our Lynda Thomas Distinguished Lecturer and Everest Guest Curator, Wade Davis, who gave the last of his three lectures on Everest in June and attended the Museum’s Annual Board Dinner as a special guest. Finally, Bowers was honored to present two days of sold-out lectures by Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass to kick off our newest series, Archaeology of the Biblical Lands, which is made possible through a bequest by Norma Kershaw.
I’m very pleased to report that our Fellows program has gotten back to pre-covid levels of activities. The Egypt/Jordon trip participants had a reunion hosted at the Chandler home in Emerald Bay on May 22, and on July 18, fourteen Fellows took off for Tanzania and the ultimate Serengeti safari. It was an experience of a lifetime, and, for those interested, this issue of the Passport includes a brief diary from the trip.
Looking ahead, I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome back the world-famous couture designer, Guo Pei. In an entirely new exhibition opening November 12, Guo Pei: Art of Couture will present collections hand-chosen by the icon herself. Watch for invitations to the premiere and a full calendar of exhibition-related events throughout the exhibition, which closes May 14.
Peter C. Keller, Ph.D