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Nonagenarian Artist
Defies Age, Stereotypes

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Anna Marie Peterson a lively 99-year-old Sun City resident stands with two of her works of art.
Natures Beauty, by Anna Marie Peterson.
Long Eared Owl, by Anna Marie Peterson.
Long Cuckoo, by Anna Marie Peterson.
Diamond Dove, by Anna Marie Peterson.
Winged Parakeet, by Anna Marie Peterson.
The Nearly 100-Year-Old Sun City, Ariz., Resident Has Developed An International Reputation For Using Hand Needle Felting To Create Realistic Works Of Art

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By Wayne Schutsky
Modern Times Magazine

Feb. 12, 2016 — Typically, the term “up-and-coming artist” conjures images of a struggling 20-something fighting for that one big break that will put them on the map. But the moment I met Anna Marie Peterson, I realized she is anything but typical.

The lively 99-year-old Sun City resident is making a splash on both the local and national level due to her unbelievably real-looking works of art. Peterson’s work stands out from the crowd because she creates it using a little-known discipline called hand needle felting.

Hand needle felting involves using a barbed needle to punch wool or other fabrics into a felt background. While the process is anything but standard in the modern art world, the resulting works are breathtakingly-real animal and nature portraits that leave gallery owners, judges and art connoisseurs speechless.

Even more impressive is the fact that Peterson did not take up hand needle felting until she reached her early nineties. At the time, her daughter Betty Hahn, an accomplished artist in her own right, was teaching a class in surface design and asked Peterson to teach a course in hand needle felting.

Despite having never used the process before, Peterson — with plenty of encouragement from Hahn — gave it a go.

The rest is history, as they say.

“I sat down with it and made the awfulest looking thing you can imagine, but it was fun,” said Peterson. “But then I tried again, and it came out looking pretty good.”

In six short years, Peterson went from giving hand needle felting a try to becoming a genuinely successful artist. In that time, she has created 85 pieces, 30 of which have been featured in shows in Arizona and around the country. Peterson’s pieces usually focus on birds or nature scenes, though she also recreated an image of a church in Norway.

At first glance, the pieces look like expertly-crafted paintings. It is only on closer examination that you realize every nuanced feature is actually created with fabric.

“I never realized I was able to make something look so real,” said Peterson.

Last year, both the Arts HQ Gallery in Surprise and Vision Gallery in Chandler featured Peterson’s work. At Vision Gallery, Peterson was the second headliner during a three-month display.

“She didn’t know she was an artist,” said Hahn. But after seeing her work in galleries, “she said ‘well, maybe I am an artist.’”

The galleries are not the only ones taking notice, though. Many of the photographers that provide Peterson with inspiration have also developed a fondness for the felt interpretations of their photos and the artist who creates them.

She was even invited to join a closed Indian nature photographers group on Facebook after using several of the members’ photos in her work. Currently, Peterson is connected with about 35 photographers from around the world who are happy to allow her to use their photos.

“I asked for permission from one photographer from India, and he said ‘Oh sure, go ahead. Can I call you granny?’” said Peterson. Now she is affectionately known as Mom or Granny to many of her collaborators.

Peterson’s success shouldn’t be all that surprising in retrospect, because she’s always had artistic talent. She started embrodering in middle school and quickly moved on to crocheting and knitting. She graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Home Economics Applied Art.

She’s also an accomplished quilter, something she shares with her daughter. Hahn is an award-winning quilter who has had her pieces featured in galleries both across the country and internationally.

If you think it’s a little out of the ordinary that a 99-year-old woman is using Facebook expertly to make art contacts around the world, you’re not alone. I have had to assist family members half her age with Facebook pages, computer problems and other technological gaffes more than once.

Many of the people who come across Peterson are surprised by her deft technological prowess. After all, not many folks born in 1916 create and run their own successful art blog. But, once again, Peterson is anything but typical, and her blog, Gramma Ann’s Felting, Quilting and Stuff, has more than 7,000 hits in just over a year.

Peterson updates her blog regularly with her latest work and always signs off with a quote that’s often laced with her trademark humor such as “‘Age is simply the number of years the world has been enjoying you.’ Am I an egotist?”

Anyone who has met Peterson will tell you she’s not an egotist, though she does have a healthy self-confidence.

But, I cannot hold that against someone who, at 99-years-old, is really just getting started.

Despite all of the success she’s already had with her hand needle felting, Peterson is not slowing down. She has a stash of new photos and ideas ready to be brought to life.

Peterson’s work is not currently showing in galleries, but she plans on participating in an upcoming competition at Arts HQ Gallery in Surprise.
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