A Spin Around the Old West at the Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara
Longtime President Peter Georgi Ready
to Explore New Frontiers
By Leslie Dinaberg | Photos by Ingrid Bostrom | February 9, 2023
Katy Perry staged a spirited western bar brawl at her private 2023 New Year’s Eve party there. In 2014, the Navy League hosted 1,000 sailors from the USS Ronald Reagan, spiffed up in their Service Dress Whites and dancing until 4 a.m. And today, more than 40 horse-drawn vehicles, some dating back as far as 1850, sit ready for action in regally restored splendor; and Old Spanish Days’ parade of Los Presidentes — everyone from Dwight Murphy (1925-26) to Maria Cabrera (2022) — stares us down in the boardroom, where Peter Georgi has spent the last 30 years at helm of the Carriage and Western Art Museum.
As volunteer president of the board since 1992, Georgi, who recently retired from his day job as co-owner of Santa Barbara Insurance Agency, is passing the reins of the nonprofit to Dylan Peterson this month. Peterson, whose day job is Academic Coordinator for the upper division undergraduate laboratories in the Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology Department at UCSB, and who says he “does Alzheimer’s research as a hobby,” also happens to the be the son of Tom Peterson, Georgi’s longtime business partner and vice president/curator of the museum.
It’s a family affair around here. Dylan’s brother Morgan is also on the board. “He’s an IT expert,” says Georgi. “It’s great to have this young blood involved here.”
Georgi was a youngblood himself when Leonard Kummer, the Museum’s founding president, first roped him into service. Both men had served as El Presidente of Old Spanish Days — Kummer in 1959 and Georgi in 1990 — and were in the Kiwanis Club together. Then, on a fateful day in 1992, Kummer (in his eighties and no longer able to drive) asked Georgi for a ride to his board meeting at the museum.
“I walked in, and I was in my thirties, and everybody there was probably in their eighties. It was probably eight or nine board members,” smiles Georgi. “And they spent 30 minutes talking about what color they were going to paint a door … and they spent another half hour talking about parking — and they were only open four hours a week back then, on Sundays!”
After the meeting, Kummer asked what Georgi thought. “I said, ‘Leonard, I have a lot of respect and admiration for you, but I’m a young insurance agent. I really can’t take an hour out of my day to come down here and talk about a door.’ And Leonard says, ‘Do you think you could do a better job?’ And I said, ‘Leonard, without sounding conceited — I have a lot of respect and admiration for you — I know I could do a better job.’”
And before he knew what hit him, Georgi was president. “And one by one, the 80-year-old gentlemen started to step down. And then we started to find new and young energetic board members. And some of them are going on 25-30 years, which is great.”
Serving on the board of the museum has definitely been a “roll up your sleeves and get the job done” kind of volunteerism for Georgi and his team. There’s been very little turnover in the group, which, in addition to the three Petersons, also includes Angela Miller-Bevan, Richard Schwasnick, Clay Dickens, Mike Danley, John Parke, Chuck Pressley, Brent Roach, Owen Schafer, Paul Uyesaka, and Phil Unander. The museum only has one employee, Alex Ramirez, who has been managing the daily activities and evening events for the past 14 years.
“We all work cohesively and work together well. We meet every other month at this table. We don’t even meet monthly now because with email and texting, it’s not necessary. And we don’t skip a beat,” says Georgi.
Keeping the museum’s collections in tip-top shape is one of their biggest responsibilities. Their holdings include a stagecoach and carriage collection of more than 40 antique (1850-1911) horse-drawn conveyances, many of which are used in the Old Spanish Days Parade during Fiesta. After the parade, “there’s horse manure all over the carriages; it takes weeks and weeks to wash all that up and clean it,” says Georgi.
“We need to restore the paint and touch up most of the carriages, buggies, and wagons too,” says Dylan Peterson, who served as the museum’s assistant curator before becoming the new president.
Other notable museum collections include: the Edward Borein friezes, which Borein (widely considered to be among the finest interpreters of the American West) originally painted in the Tecolote Ranch tack room in 1931 for owner Silsby Spalding; the 1932 Joe De Yong diorama sculpture of one of Ben Holliday’s stagecoaches and six horses; and the saddle and bridle collection, which includes more than 50 saddles, many of which belonged to famous people including the Cisco Kid, Will Rogers, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart.
In addition to all of the great parties — including his daughter Melissa’s wedding coming up in the fall — one of Georgi’s favorite things he does at the museum is giving docent tours to school groups. California history is part of the 4rth-grade curriculum, so the museum hosts loads of local grade-school children.
On Halloween a few years ago, Georgi had a particularly fun time dressed up as Rattlesnake Pete, where he had a “live person pop up and scare the kids” (See tinyurl.com/georgirattlesnakepete for the video) as he stood in front of an antique hearse and told them some of the history and lore about funeral practices.
Despite retiring from his business and as president of the museum (he’ll remain on the board), Georgi’s having no trouble filling up his newly found free time. At the suggestion of his wife, Ruth, that he “get out of the house,” he’s now driving the train at the Santa Barbara Zoo, where, in the case of small-town worlds colliding, Katy Perry recently recognized him as the guy from the Carriage Museum.
“And Orlando Bloom [Perry’s fiancé] said he liked my jokes,” says Georgi.
The Carriage and Western Art Museum of Santa Barbara is located in Pershing Park (129 Castillo St.) and is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. with free admission. Docent tours are also available on the third Sunday of each month from 1-4 p.m. See carriagemuseum.org.
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