Peter Lane Lindenmuth
November 7, 1927 – November 27, 2013
Peter Lane Lindenmuth, a mechanical engineer, gallery owner, artist, real estate investor, and self-acknowledged eccentric, died November 27, 2013 in Boston, MA.
The son and grandson of artists, he was born in Provincetown, MA, on November 7, 1927. His father, Tod Lindenmuth, studied with Robert Henri and was a Modernist painter and printmaker. His mother, E.B. Warren, was best known for her etchings and watercolors. The family followed the seasonal art market, exhibiting during the winter in St. Augustine, FL and during the summer in Massachusetts, first in Provincetown and, beginning in 1941, in Rockport.
Although interested in art from an early age, Lindenmuth was also fascinated by metalworking and machinery. In part because of its greater professional promise, he chose mechanical engineering as his field of study, graduating from the University of Florida and later becoming a Licensed Professional Engineer. Eventually settling in Boston, Lindenmuth opened an art gallery at 82 Charles Street in 1956. He later also operated at a seasonal second location, the converted fish shack on Rockport’s Bearskin Neck that had been his parents’ gallery and the family’s summer home.
In its first decade, Lindenmuth’s Nexus Gallery introduced many fledgling Boston artists to the public. It also became a regular venue for rising artists such as Arnold Trachtman, David Omar White, Jo Sandman, and Paul Zelanski. Artists of broader stature exhibited there as well, including Giorgio Morandi and William R. Christopher. The gallery’s lasting impact on the Boston art scene received official recognition in the mid-1980’s, when the Boston Public Library mounted an exhibition, under the direction of Sinclair Hitchins, then curator of the Wiggin Print Room, that featured the Nexus Gallery and works of Trachtman. Material from the gallery remains part of the Print Room’s collection.
Although his lifestyle was unusually frugal and the gallery did an active business, Lindenmuth nonetheless found himself in need of further income. To make ends meet, he set up a machine shop in the rear of the space, which he used for his own projects and also allowed others to use for a nominal hourly fee. A sign from this era reveals the offbeat sense of humor for which Lindenmuth was known: “2 cents worth of technical advice (results not guaranteed) FREE!! up to 5 minutes”.
In 1966, with Charles Street having become too expensive and too “establishment” for his tastes, Lindenmuth moved the Nexus to an upper floor of an industrial building on Stanhope Street. In this location, the “Nexus Machine and Gallery,” as it was now called, took a form that anticipated by decades the trend of combining the artistic and the industrial in the same space. The name was both fanciful and accurate: the walls were covered with paintings, the floor was full of machine shop equipment.
At about this time Lindenmuth began to invest in Boston real estate, buying two 19th-century rental properties on the back side of Beacon Hill. Like his rates for using the machine shop, his rents were always well below market. His tenants, almost all of whom became friends and admirers, were often “artistic or bohemian types,” as he described them, with unusual interests and life stories.
He also had acquired, some years earlier, a large plot of land atop Pigeon Hill in Rockport that had an unparalleled view of the town and harbor. His intent was to build a “pleasure pavilion” where friends and residents might come and enjoy recordings and live performances of jazz. Lindenmuth designed a striking Modernist structure, a soaring chevron of glass supported by steel trusses. Eventually realizing the impracticality of the plan, he sold the land to the Town of Rockport for use as a park.
In the mid-1980’s, finding himself once again priced out of a gentrifying neighborhood, Lindenmuth moved the Nexus to an old industrial building alongside the Southeast Expressway near Andrew Square. The former home of a church supply company, the ramshackle wooden building still contained an array of plaster friezes, stations of the cross, and other unsold church fixtures. In this location, the Nexus evolved into a combination of machine shop and ad hoc social center, serving a loose-knit community of artists, artisans, and engineers. Most were individuals who either used the machine shop, rented studio space in the building, or lived in Lindenmuth’s apartment building next door.
For many years, Lindenmuth regularly cooked dinners several nights a week for anyone who happened to be around. He adamantly refused all offers of money or help. His “kitchen” consisted of a toaster oven and two electric frying pans set up on part of an unfinished formica altar, the alpha and omega still fastened to the front. Amidst the amiable clutter of unsold paintings from the gallery days, remnants of disused machinery, and a seven-foot statue of Saint Lucy holding a plate with two eyeballs, Lindenmuth and his colleagues would gather for an informal meal, often washed down with some “Old Love Canal,” as Lindenmuth called the jug wine he kept on hand. The group, whose ragtag appearance concealed some remarkable IQs and distinguished degrees, debated politics, art, culture, and philosophy while also working together to find solutions to the various engineering challenges facing one or another of the participants.
Although Lindenmuth never advertised, his reputation as an eccentric yet brilliant and generous engineer generated a constant flow of small and often unusual engineering projects. If you wanted someone to build a six-foot-diameter lazy susan to hold all your ophthalmology equipment, or to design a harness to hold cameras onto the backs of dolphins that were being sent to look for the Loch Ness monster, Lindenmuth was the man for the job. He also provided invaluable mechanical help to those who came to use his workshop, including sculptors such as Ellen Driscoll, Ann Lilly, and Mary Sherman. Some of his long-time associates were involved in developing and refining designs for folding or recumbent bicycles and for unicycles.
A lifelong aficionado of jazz, Lindenmuth enjoyed playing the saxophone, even though, as he put it, “I’m not only tone-deaf but rhythm-deaf.” But it was as a sculptor that he achieved true artistic accomplishment, slowly and quietly amassing a small body of carefully planned and executed works. Some were overtly humorous, even as they displayed originality and elegance. A small sculpture called “Tools for the Cocktail Hour” presented a set of sinuous, softly polished, not-quite-identifiable stainless steel objects that were labeled with such names as “Olive Spanner” and “Mayonnaise Finisher and Edger.”
Other sculptures were frankly beautiful, often in a way both light-hearted and touching, and always reflective of the concerns of both artist and engineer. Lindenmuth also designed an imaginative furniture series that was exhibited at Boston’s Mills Gallery and elsewhere.
One Lindenmuth design was for a small pop-up outdoor stage. It consisted of a raised platform, just large enough for two or three performers, whose open metal sides and back featured curving shapes that suggested an updated and distilled version of art deco. When the performance was over, the entire stage folded down into the ground, all neatly concealed beneath a flat metal panel that lay flush with the surrounding pavement.
Of his sculpture he wrote, “I use those lines and curves and masses and materials that please me, stolen from other artists and industrial designers. The subject of my sculptures is usually useful: bits of machinery and furniture and similar things that actually work … at least a little bit.”
Lindenmuth’s sister, Ann Fisk, also an artist and the former director of the Rockport Art Association, died in 2009. He is survived by his life partner, the artist and illustrator Marcia Sewall; a nephew, Josiah Fisk of Salem, MA; a niece, Miranda Fisk of Charlotte, VT; and the many longtime friends and colleagues who were his second family. At Lindenmuth’s wishes, no formal funeral or memorial service is planned. Gifts in his memory may be given to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Peter Lane Lindenmuth
January 1, 2014
Peter and I worked for National Radio Company in 1952 and 1953. I believe he designed the cabinets or the tuning dials for National's FM Radios. He was a refreshing enthusiastic engineer at the time. We met occassionally at some of our National Radio Alumni dinners, but evan if he missed a dinner, someone would always ask about his where abouts .
Cathy Nolan Vincevic
December 25, 2013
Oh, the garboons swilled down at the Nexus Machine and Gallery. Rest well, Peter--so many memories of life in Andrew Square!
December 3, 2013
I know he will be missed by all. Although I only met him a few times while visitng my Aunt Marcia in Boston I still remember our discussions about world events and other interesting topics. He will be missed by all I am sure.
December 1, 2013
To all those who knew Peter, I'm sure not a day will go by that we won't smile in remembrance of him. One would be hard pressed to find a more brilliant mechanic, inventive artist, kinder soul or amusing character. For that reason, my condolences are really for those who never knew him - as we were so very blessed to have him in our lives, however long or brief.