Peggy Unterseher, Artist, Educator, and Inspiration


Lura Pitman

Peggy Unterseher, pronounced Unter-see-her, has lived in Roundup and taught high school Art class for sixteen years. She has taught various mediums, from drawing, painting, stained glass, pottery, all the way to Easter Peep's dioramas, to much more. While there are many talented artists in the world, art teachers are among the most talented. Not only do they work with multiple mediums of the craft, they also work with children and parents. That takes a very special kind of person, and Peggy is no exception.

Peggy was a college graduate from Northern College in Havre. She actually majored in English, which she always loved, and minored in Art, with another degree in Graphic Art. She had already been married, divorced, and raised her children when she began college at 42. Still looking like she is in her forties, Peggy is now 63 and looking forward to retirement.

Art is something that a person knows they want to do from the time they are a child. For Peggy, the schools she went to never had art programs at all. Her parents were very conservative, so the little art she had growing up were adult ed classes until she went to college, but she did art her whole life on her own. A creative person has to create. No one else in her family was an artist, or even had an interest in it. Her mother was a good seamstress, but her grandmother, Peggy explains, was an amazing seamstress. Her grandmother worked at an upscale clothing store in downtown Billings called Doyle's, as an alteration seamstress. She even made formal gowns. Peggy felt that her grandmother was her biggest influence in her love to create, though her parents were always supportive of her interest.

Her father loved to get her supplies for her art interests. If she showed an interest in something he would go get her the supplies she needed, though they were very conservative with their spending, her father understood how much this meant to her. Peggy told this story about her father. She had an etch-a-sketch that she would use all the time to draw, and she could write whole paragraphs on, it was her favorite toy. If your old enough to remember the etch-a-sketch, you know that is a very difficult toy to draw or write on. Her parents were very conservative and would expect the toys to be put away. She remembers one time that she had left her etch-a-sketch out after school, and her father had come home from work and accidentally stepped on it and broke it. Normally she would have been in trouble for leaving the toy out, but her father, knowing how much that toy meant to her, turned around and went right to Hamilton six miles away and bought her a new etch-a-sketch. Her sisters were straight A students and her parents used to tease "Oh yeah, Peggy gets A's in Art, Band, PE, and Lunch". She also got an English degree in college. I suspect there are many of us in this world who can relate.

I asked where Peggy was originally from, and she told me; " I always tell people I was born in Wyoming and raised by two North Dakotans in Montana." She originally went to high school in Corvallis, Montana, then she spent two years in Saco, Montana, two years in Fromberg, Montana, graduating from Fromberg. She married a Fromberg local and lived there for 25 years. Her mother was a school teacher, and her father a Superintendent, so they had moved frequently. Peggy refers to the highline community as "the salt of the earth." I think we can all agree our neighbors to the north are pretty nice.

Peggy's grandparents immigrated to the United States in 1910 from the Ukraine area. They were German Russians. Germans lived in Russia for about 100 years, but started immigrating out in the early 1900's because it was being required that they would become Russian citizens, and they never considered themselves Russians. They kept their language and religions. There were a lot of German Jews, a lot of Catholics and Lutherans. Peggy's parents were Lutheran.

Her grandparents homesteaded in Golden Valley, North Dakota after arriving in America. Peggy's father was one of the youngest of her grandparent's children, born in 1925, he was born in the United States. She had two aunts and an uncle, who were born in Russia, and an aunt was born on the ship they took to come to America. Her birth certificate states the Atlantic Ocean as her place of birth, and they named her Oceana, and was Peggy's Aunt "Ana". Her grandmother never learned to read and write in English but her grandfather did. Her grandparent's brothers and sisters also came to America at the same time. Peggy was named after aunt Bluma, (which meant flower), but who was always called Peggy. Having such close ties to her family's immigration has impacted her appreciation for the culture of her family, and the culture they left behind.

Every year, Peggy does an annual Peep show with her art students. It is a contest that is very popular with the students and community. We always have the winner in the paper, and this year was no exception. Peggy had a very talented young lady, Julianne Landgren, who did a Bob Ross Diorama Peep Show that came in first. Peggy has decided that this year, the Peep show has come to a final conclusion. She felt it was time to wrap it up. "I think everything has a life, and I think its life was ending."

Peggy has done some adult education classes in the past, and last year did a children's summer art class that was very successful. She is not planning to do it this year as she has other commitments this summer. I have had several people hoping she might do a stained-glass class, but we all will have to wait.

I always ask artists what their favorite media is to work with. It really is a silly question, because when you love art "it's like trying to pick a favorite food", as Peggy explains. She loves to paint with watercolor, she also really loves glass work because it is so beautiful.

I was delighted to interview Peggy for this week's feature. I have always loved art, and it was my favorite class throughout school. I had a wonderful art teacher, Diana Brady, that I hope to feature for an article one day. Diana has gone on to become a professional water color artist, participating in the annual CM Russell Art Show in Great Falls with her work.

We look to those artists making a name for themselves and appreciate their work, but the incredible talent of an art teacher is often unrecognized. Some of the most modest of the art community are those who give us the most inspiration, have the most versatility in art, and practice with a daily commitment, while helping the students find their abilities and interests. So, thanks to all those art teachers far and wide who gave those who aren't scholars inspiration, and a reason to stay in school. It cannot be understated that for some, it is the "other" classes that keep them going.


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