Our Neighbors.... Heide Peltier

Heide Peltier collects frogs. Not the real live kind, but just about every other kind. She displays them in a bathroom in her Carlton home and has so many that she revolves her collection, switching frogs when the mood strikes her.

Heide Peltier collects frogs. Not the real live kind, but just about every other kind. She displays them in a bathroom in her Carlton home and has so many that she revolves her collection, switching frogs when the mood strikes her.

Those frogs have also been the subject matter in many of her watercolor paintings, so when the Carlton County Seat Theater Company announced their March performance of "The Frog Prince," Peltier "leaped" to the top of the Arrowhead Art Club list as the artist to display her work at the theater.

She single-handedly filled up the theater space with mostly watercolors of frogs, along with specific scenes from "The Frog Prince."

"They knew I'd shown frogs before," she said. "Our club always displays paintings there and due to a rule change, that show was the first solo show at the theater, and for me."

Art History


Peltier has only recently delved into watercolor, however. She discovered her artistic talent while growing up in the 1950s, in Schmalkalden, Germany. She liked to draw and was elected to hand letter the weekly class schedules that were displayed at the school.

"My dad was artistic and used to use India ink to do calligraphy, and he could draw," she said. "My aunt used to paint, too. Back then she lived in East Germany and during a visit one time, she gave me a watercolor she did of a castle in her town. On the way home, we stopped at the border where they thoroughly searched our car. When they got to the painting, they said, 'What's this?' and took the painting and disappeared. Finally a man came back and said that as long as the painting wasn't valuable they'd let us take it. I still have that painting and it's valuable to me."

Peltier's uncle had a talent for photography as well, so she credits her father and his relatives for her abilities.

She continued to do well in her school's art classes but didn't do any additional art study while in Germany.

"I enjoyed it as a kid, but that was as far as it went," she said. "The idea of leaving town to study something artistic like interior design or fashion was impossible. We had enough money - but not money for that."

It wasn't until 1973 that Peltier got interested in art again, and by then she had already lived in the United States for over 10 years.

Setting Sail for America

When Heide was about seven years old, her parents briefly considered moving to Canada.


She did not want to go.

"I didn't want to move there at all," she said. "I didn't want to leave my family and friends."

She got her wish and the family stayed in Germany, where she finished high school and began working as a pharmacist's assistant. She was 19 at the time and had no plans to leave her hometown, let alone the country.

"I was still living with my parents and hadn't even considered moving out," she said. "I never thought I would end up here in the United States."

During high school, hers family met and befriended an American from Duluth named Ray Peltier, who was in their town building an athletic field as part of a government program.

The mayor of the town hosted weekly parties for the men from overseas and Heide's family was invited because her father spoke English.

"I liked Ray but nothing romantic was going on," she said. "I think he was actually interested in my older sister."

Ray went back to the United States after spending 2-1/2 years there, and the two wrote to each other.


"I thought it was great to have someone I could write to in English," she said. "He never hinted at anything more than that and I never thought about it."

Then one day a letter came that changed everything. In it was "the big question," as Peltier puts it and she decided to say yes.

Her father, however, was not thrilled and said she must stay in Germany until she turned 21. Ray accepted that and continued to write to her about his little place in Carlton and about riding horses every weekend with his friends.

"This was a BIG decision," she said. "Nowadays I don't know, I'd have to think a lot more about things, but I think you have a lot more courage when you're younger."

She hadn't even dated Ray or met his parents, or ever traveled so far before.

By the time she had turned 20, her father had relented about her going. So in September 1961, she traveled for nine days on an American ship to get to New York.

"It was an adventure, I'm telling you," she laughed. "It was exciting!"

It was also a good adjustment period, with the mix of Americans and other people from Europe. She befriended a girl about her age who was traveling to Pennsylvania to be a nanny.


They made it through a hurricane and Peltier made it through seasickness one night by sleeping on a deck chair rather than in her smoke-filled cabin from her cabin mates three decks below.

When they arrived and saw the Statue of Liberty, Peltier said she was excited and a little nervous, hoping she would find Ray waiting for her.

He had driven from Minnesota to New York to meet her and although there was a large crowd, Peltier saw Ray as the ship was docking and they waved to each other.

"I was relieved," she said. "I don't know what I would have done if he didn't arrive."

Once they left New York, their first stop on the way to her new home was Niagara Falls. "It was all beautiful and exciting," she said. She also marveled at Ray's car - a DeSoto, which she jokingly said was "so big you could pack a lunch and be hungry for it by the time you got from the front to the back."

When they arrived in northern Minnesota, Peltier stayed with Ray's parents in Duluth while they made wedding arrangements.

Four weeks later, they were married.

"It was really kind of a gamble," she said. "Things are different now but in those days you tried to do everything you were expected to do [as a wife]."


Life in Carlton was different than her previous experiences, but she loved living in the country versus the city and enjoyed meeting Ray's friends and family.

She also missed her family tremendously and said she "wrote and wrote and wrote" letters home.

The following year Ray's cousins went to Germany and met her parents as part of the trip.

"That helped a lot that my parents could meet some of his family and they could tell them personally how we were doing,""she said.

In 1964, their daughter Anita was born and in 1967, a son named Eric.

Up until this time, Peltier had not talked to her parents or sister, except through tape-recorded messages. But while she was still in the hospital, Ray arranged their first phone conversation since she'd left Germany.

"That phone rang and it was my dad," she said. "It was just like they were here."

Later that year, the Peltier's visited Germany over Christmas and after that they were able to travel every few years to see each other.


When her parents first came to visit, her dad was impressed by the country living as well.

"My dad couldn't get over it that here you could wear a T-shirt outside and nobody would give a hoot," she laughed. "He thought it was just heaven."

During this time, Peltier also earned her driver's license, her U.S. citizenship and also got back to her art. She came across a listing for an art class in Carlton and Ray encouraged her to go, she remembered.

She thought it would be instructional, but instead there were artists working comfortably with canvas and oil paint. They encouraged her to give it a try and she said because the cost for materials was so high, she began with cardboard and latex paint.

"I think I painted a white flower pot with white flowers on that cardboard; it was my first painting. My first painting with oil on canvas was awful anyway."

Since then, Peltier has taken numerous art classes, trying different mediums and painting everything from nature scenes to people to - frogs. She clips "pages and more pages" from magazines for inspiration.

"I've improved a lot," she said. "It comes with practice - you don't just fall out of the sky and be a master, at least not for me."

She credits the Arrowhead Art Club members, and specifically Betty Brown, with helping to improve her work and encouraging her to try new mediums like watercolor.

"Just getting together to paint is so educational," she said. "You watch other people and talk and attend workshops. A little bit rubs off, you start combining all this in your brain and you get a little better with time. I remember saying in the beginning that someday I hope I have paintings good enough to actually hang on the wall, and now that I do, it's just fun."

Peltier's art currently can be seen in Cloquet at the Chamber of Commerce and at Community Memorial Hospital. Her work is also part of a revolving show at Aspenridge Chiropractor and will be back on display later this year.

In Duluth her paintings are hanging at Just for the Season Gallery, Blue Lake Gallery, Minnesota Power Credit Union and the Credit Union Service Center.

Pine Journal Editor Lisa Baumann can be contacted at: .

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