Thursday, July 18, 2024

City archivist Alyssa Pacy has selected items made by Peter Valentine to rescue for a Cambridge Public Library collection. (Photo: Cathie Zusy)

A giveaway of art and other items is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the former home of Peter Valentine, the Cantabrigian artist who died just under a year ago on Aug. 9. The yard-sale-style event will clear the house before a nonprofit homebuilder assumes ownership, members of the Valentine Art House Advisory Board said Monday.

Just A Start takes ownership of the 37 Brookline St. building during the week of July 24, which Catherine Zusy and fellow organizers said they discovered just Wednesday.

Over the years, the outsider artist transformed his property near Central Square in Cambridgeport into a public art piece called Cosmic Moose & Grizzly Bearsville. It’s covered in colorful sayings and citations and representations of animals and patterns, and Valentine, 80 at the time of his death, filled it with similarly eccentric handmade works. Zusy and others formed the advisory board to propose it as a publicly owned arts center; family sold the property so it become at least a dozen affordable homes, likely for rent.

The items Valentine made in his life should be distributed instead of lost in the transition, the advisory board believed. All items at the “sale” will be free.

Some items from the home of Peter Valentine. (Photos: Cathie Zusy)

Curators and cultural workers will have first pick, starting with Museum of Fine Arts Boston curator of folk and outsider art Michael Bramwell. “The tribe” and Emily More – Peter’s closest friends – will go in second. The sale opens to the general public afterward, Zusy said.

She and city archivist Alyssa Pacy and Zusy said they have already selected several items to be preserved in a Peter Valentine Collection in the Cambridge Room at the Cambridge Main Library. The items include a collection of Valentine’s writings, charts, photographs, figures, wooden talismans and clothing – and a big, pink rock.

The collection will focus on neurodivergence, Zusy said, because Cambridge “is such a kind place and a beneficent place that there have been a lot of unusual people in Cambridge that have been nurtured here,” including Valentine. 

He had unmedicated schizophrenia, which developed in his late teens and cut short his theater studies at Boston University, Zusy said.

“There are all these charts” in the house’s collection that Valentine used to try to make sense of the world around him. Zusy said. “It’s the work of another mind … that’s different from yours and different from mine.” His written works also include treatises written to the city, inanimate “associates” that kept him company during lonelier moments, wooden tools and items to “manage the energy” and many handmade clothes and leather satchels. Valentine made many of his own clothes by hand. 

The house was given to him by MIT and relocated when it stood in the way of its University Park plans – though details of the transaction have grown murky since the 1980s – and he created its famous fence to “block mundane energy,” Zusy said. It is in that house “where he worked so hard to protect us from all of the evil forces that haunted him.”

According to Zusy, the Central Square Business Improvement District will clean up the yard and help prepare the property for the sale; Zusy’s neighbor Zeenat Potia and her children will sell cold lemonade at the event for 50 cents a cup. The goal with these low prices, Zusy said, is to create a casual, partylike environment and celebrate Valentine’s life while preserving his legacy. 

“I think that Peter would love all of this,” Zusy said.