Ridgefield notables: Peter J. Wick was an artist, athlete, and advocate
Tall and burly, Peter Wick was a former boxer and champion wrestler who became a prolific artist, painting countless scenes of the Connecticut countryside, the New England shoreline, old sailing ships, and tropical islands.
Wick was also a veteran police sergeant who advocated intelligent treatment of wayward teenagers.
Wick was born in New York City in 1902, the son of Polish immigrants, and at 22, joined the New York Police Department. He was also deeply involved in wrestling and boxing “He sparred with famous boxers such as Jack Dempsey and worked with Gene Tunney at the West Side YMCA in New York City,” his family said. “He coached young boxers and one of his best-known pupils was middleweight champion, Rocky Graziano“
Wick later became the national amateur wrestling champion, going on to win four AAU medals. He continued to box as late as 1947 in police leagues.
Wick passed on his love of those sports to city kids. In the 1920s, he was an organizer of what was to become the Police Athletic League, which still provides many programs for New York’s youth.
Wick became interested in art in the 1930s, and studied painting under Howard Chandler Christy, a noted portrait artist, and Gordon Grant, famous for his maritime scenes. In a 1945 Christy mural, which depicted negotiations between the U.S. government and the American Indians, Wick modeled as an Indian chief. The mural is in the Ohio State Rotunda.
When he and his wife, Henrietta, and family moved to Ned’s Mountain Road in 1940, that wild area of Ridgebury helped foster a love of nature and the countryside, and inspired many of his paintings.
He retired from the NYPD in 1953 after 29 years. To bring in extra money, he began selling his paintings at shows. In 1959, he opened a gallery on White Street in Danbury. He later had a studio in Westport. Some of his paintings sold for as much as $300 ($2,700 today), helping considerably with the retirement income.
In 1959, he was appointed a prosecutor in the town’s Trial Justice Court. Within a year, he resigned, feeling the court wanted him to be tough on teenagers. He did not believe in being “too harsh on young first offenders who commit misdemeanors.” A police record, he said, can considerably affect a boy’s future school and job opportunities.
“Ridgefield is growing, and modern methods must replace some of the outmoded ones,” Wick said. “A good policeman doesn’t arrest everybody brought to his attention.”
In 1984, Wick retired to Lakeland, Fla. He died five years later at age 87. In 2015, 200 of Wick’s paintings raised more than $16,000 at auction to provide food, clothing, shelter, and various programs to the homeless communities of Central Florida.
— Jack Sanders