|Photo of Peter Thorpe by Karl Steinbrenner, courtesy King Features.
Peter Joseph Thorpe was born on November 9, 1957, in Portland, Oregon, to Virginia Mary Thorpe and Peter Quinn Thorpe. He moved with his parents to New Orleans, Louisiana, his mother's hometown, in 1958, and spent his elementary and grade school years there. While still calling New Orleans home, he spent his high school academic years attending Florida Central Academy, a coeducational boarding school in Mount Plymouth, Florida. He graduated in 1976.
While attending an exchange program at Lincoln College, Oxford, studying art and literature, he met Pauline Baynes, the artist who was best known for illustrating The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien. Baynes encouraged Peter to pursue his interests in illustration. He continued his art studies in the fall of 1976 at the California College of Arts and Crafts, graduating in 1980 with a bachelor of art. Commercial art was his major.
Always interested in art and design, Peter started drawing and painting at an early age and was doing illustrations for New Orleans Magazine by the time he was eighteen. During his college years in California, he worked as a freelance illustrator for various publishers and ad agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area.
After college, Peter moved to New York City, where he continued to do illustration. By his second year in Manhattan, he was doing book cover jobs almost exclusively. He found that having a penchant for type design, as well as for illustration, allowed him to offer both of these services to book publishers, who often had to job out the design of a book cover to one person, while jobbing out the illustration to another.
He enjoyed early success with jobs from St. Martin's Press, Viking Penguin, and Harper & Row. For Viking, he did the cover of Frederick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol in 1984 and Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon Days in 1985, both number one best sellers. During the 15 years that he spent in Manhattan, he established himself as a book cover designer who specialized in mysteries, Americana and espionage. He did cover series for Warner Books (Larry Bond, Ross Thomas, Elizabeth Peters, Harold Adams), Harper & Row (Desmond Bagley, Hammond Innes, Len Deighton, Fred Harris), St. Martin's Press (Gregory Bean, Laura Crum), Doubleday (Daniel Easterman) and Random House (Thomas Perry).
Over the years, he has created covers for authors Nelson Algren, Desmond Bagley, John Calvin Batchelor, William Bernhardt, Terry Bisson, David Cole, Peter DeVries, Daniel Easterman, Thomas Fleming, John Fuller, Michael Gannon, Wendy Hornsby, M. T. Kelly, Brad Linaweaver, Jack London, Walter M. Miller, Jr., Joseph Monninger, Gerard K. O'Neill, Sharon Kaye Penman, Scott Rice, Dana Stabenow, John Trenhaile, Cay Van Ash and Judith Van Gieson.
But it was in 1986 that he got his first Tony Hillerman manuscript, Skinwalkers, from Harper & Row. Hillerman's mysteries are about the present day Navajo Reservation. By using Navajo sand paintings as a guide, Peter developed a simple graphic style for the covers that incorporated mystery elements along with Native American graphics. The look worked. He has done over 40 editions of Hillerman's mysteries, including novels, edited collections, omnibuses, box editions, back title paperbacks and a Hillerman Country Map. In doing so, Peter, who is one eighth Native American (Cherokee), has been able to find a connection to a part of his ancestry.
In 1998 he moved to North Carolina, a state he knew well. His parents retired to Pinehurst years earlier, and he attended summer camp in the Smoky Mountains in the 1960s. He now lives in those mountains, in downtown Asheville, and runs his design studio out of a historic 1920 hotel called The Asheville Hotel.
His life long love of space science led him to the position of Creative Director for the Space Frontier Foundation from 1988 to 2008. His Rocket Paintings have been collected by many in the space advocacy community, and are in the collections of authors Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Richard and Wendy Pini, Ben Bova, Andrew Chaikin, Rick Tumlinson, and Vanna Bonta. He designs several web sites, including the web site for actress Julia Meade, an interactive tribute site for illustrator Pauline Baynes, and also the web site for actor David Manners, a site he manages with author John Norris and devoted to their late friend, David Manners, a Hollywood leading man of the 1930s who starred in such classics as Dracula, The Black Cat, The Mummy, Roman Scandals and Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Peter's artwork has appeared in Communication Arts and Print Magazine, and his paintings have been shown at The Society of Illustrators and the Art Director's Club. He continues to do book covers, including covers for the Mary Daheim's Alpine series published by Random House. Other current projects include his Rocket Paintings and Figure Paintings series, and his science fiction stories and artwork at BigheadMoon.com.
More information can be found in Susan Newman's Branding You Better 2011 blog post: Brand Interview - Peter Thorpe, Designer & Illustrator.
Additional information can be found in the Peter Thorpe cover article in the Fall 2004 issue of On Spec Magazine.