Burst pipes at Peter Valentine’s folk art home need a $50,000 fix, crowdfunding friends say
There’s trouble at Moose and Grizzly Bear’s Ville – the colorful public art project that is the home of the equally colorful Peter Valentine a few blocks below Central Square: Tuesday’s cold snap burst a radiator pipe, flooding the home’s first and second floors.
“As disruptive as this has been, what it inspired is beautiful: an extraordinary outpouring of community support” from friends of Valentine including the Central Square Business Improvement District, Central Square’s Patrick Barrett and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, according to a letter from the group that points people to a crowfunding campaign by the Central Square BID to raise money for repairs.
Between demolition and a dumpster, plumbing and electrical work, sanitization, new drywall and replacement of some furniture and household items that couldn’t be rescued, $50,000 is needed, the campaign says.
Valentine and his Cambridgeport house are extraordinary in a few ways. He is prone to decidedly cosmic utterances – he has explained himself as having spent “almost 50 years developing an ultimate system of security rooted in the nature of primeval energies, which are the bottom line energy that sustains and propels life.” And as a frequent attendee at pre-pandemic City Council meetings (always in signature patchwork homemade clothing suggesting a cross of shaman and boy scout), he was the only person allowed to give public comment on topics not on the night’s agenda. He has long advocated for renaming Central Square to something more aspirational: Starlight Square.
In a nod to his creativity and to honor Valentine, this past summer the Central Square BID named its popup outdoor community space “Starlight Square.”
It’s only the most recent example of Valentine’s surprising effectiveness in bending the universe to his will. In the early 1990s he notoriously convinced MIT to give him the Blanche Street house that would become Moose and Grizzly Bear’s Ville (“his metaphysical laboratory”) to ease University Park development; the institute relocated it to Franklin Street and Brookline Avenue, setting it at the precise angle he prescribed.
It became his “Mythical Knowledge Center” and the “Institute for the Destruction of Boredom,” where he has charged small fees to teach his ethos as “Electromagnetic Kung-Fu,” and he set about decorating it, laying down a purple base to decorate with animals, found objects and Valentine’s written wisdom. “My intention is to create a glorious planet, and that’s the whole intention of the house,” Valentine said in a short Cambridge Community Television film. As the Friday letter by supporters put it:
Valentine built the fence in 1991 to present what he was interested in and provoke passersby to contemplate not what he considered “the boring news media and advertising images and designs that are projected at people as they go about living their lives.” It features wildlife, including the moose – so big and awkward and rich in cosmic knowledge. What especially captures visitors are the philosophical morsels that adorn the fence, along with spiritual insights and universal aspirations.
At Valentine’s request, the Cambridge Historical Commission met in 2012 to consider landmarking the fence – tabling the request because it would have frozen the work in time; Valentine would have needed to consult the commission each time he wanted to change it. But during the process, support for recognizing its importance was heard from Leslie Umberger, curator of folk and self-taught art at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Rebecca A. Hoffberger, founder and director of the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. In 2014, Cambridge Arts celebrated Valentine’s fence at the annual River Festival, and in 2017, the City Council wrote a proclamation to “celebrate Peter Valentine’s contributions to Cambridge” and noting that he offers good civic ideas, such as for a photo mural on Modica Way (“Graffiti Alley” in Central Square), as well as metaphysics.
The three-story home and surrounding fence has also put Cambridge on the map with Atlas Obscura, a compendium of curiosities worth visiting worldwide. The site praised Valentine’s “unstoppable will to create” a “burst of inventive punk rock spirituality in an otherwise bland neighborhood landscape.”
“While Valentine does not have money, he is rich in imagination and intriguing ideas,” the supporters’ letter says. “If you can help him reconstruct his house … please give.” The GoFundMe page is here.
This post took significant amounts of material from a press release.