Life Imitates Art

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Peter Daniel ’06 is eyeing medical school as a way to combine creativity and service.
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by John Syme

After Peter Daniel ’06 graduated with a degree in studio art, he painted in a spare bedroom of his Charlotte apartment and waited tables at Noble’s Restaurant.

“If I was going to live the starving artist lifestyle, I wanted to have some good food now and then,” he said. “I don’t mind roughing it in other ways, but I like to eat well.” He has done both since that time. Daniel returned in early May from earthquake-stricken Haiti, where he was a teacher in rural Bayonnais in 2007–08. He has gone back often to Haiti to work on economically sustainable projects for producing peanut butter and sun-dried mangoes. An erstwhile pre-med, he served as de facto midwife for a fast, hard birth (“People were praying the roof off that building.”) and is now that baby’s godfather. He has hawked fruit in a marketplace where he was “the only white person for miles,” with sun-dried mangoes hauled down a trail so rough that donkeys feared to tread.

As for eating well, Daniel said his most memorable Haitian meal was a modest one of sorghum with beans and few pieces of okra, served by a student who only a short time before had had to ask him for food.

“I’d never had anybody ask me for food before,” Daniel said. He recalled another life-changing exchange, when a Haitian friend wept upon learning that in the United States there are veterinarians for household pets. In Haiti, there are not enough doctors for people.

Early at Davidson, Daniel gave up his pre-medical coursework. His passion was art, and “pre-med was too much work to be halfhearted about.” But this August, he will enter the Medical College of Georgia. His artist bio fills in some blanks with broad strokes:“World travel, a challenging urban service [Stapleton-Davidson]internship, and wonderfully dense monastic retreats have been formative elements shaping his identity and vocations as artist and pastor—a word he customizes to mean: one who provides an open space in which to exchange vulnerability for some form of healing, however humble.”

His ideas of grace and faith continue to grow. “What makes me important? It’s at everybody’s heart at some point in their lives. How we answer that question is important not just for ourselves but for the people around us.”

And so: a doctor with an artist’s eye and a pastor’s ear.

“The greatest challenge is simply seeing your subject,” Daniel said of the work that has called him—drawing, painting, writing, feeding, healing. “Sometimes you can fall into seeing conventions instead of just listening and hearing what’s there.

“I’m called to live in two incredibly different worlds,” he said. “One of the things I’m passionate about is trying to bridge the gap a little bit.”

For more on Daniel’s work in Haiti and in fine art visit http://www.peterbdaniel.com/.

Self Portrait Courtesy of Peter Daniels

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