Life’s pains, triumphs inspire Peterson’s ‘The Orphans and the Oak’

Perry artist Betsy Peterson will be signing and reading from her new illustrated book, "The Orphans and the Oak," at several venues next week and at her First Look event Nov. 14 at the gallery at 1121 Second St.

The studio of Betsy Peterson Designs in Perry is well known for the range and variety of its whimsical creations, from murals and mobiles to sculptures and hard-to-classify expressions in the plastic arts. Each year brings fresh creative growth, and this year is no different, with Peterson teaming up with her sister-in-law to produce a children’s picture book, “The Orphans and the Oak.”

Skip Mable

The book was a labor of love for Peterson and a memorial and testament to the inspiring spirit and creative intuition of her parents, Robert T. Mable and Marjorie Wedge Mable, and of her brother, Skip Mable, who died suddenly last Thanksgiving, leaving behind his wife of 36 years, Katie (Kathi Owen) Mable, and three adult children. The genesis of “The Orphans and the Oak,” written by Katie Mable and illustrated by Peterson, is described on the dust jacket:

Acorns always showed up in the Mable family. From the time they were little, the five Mable children learned by observing their artist mom use acorns from the front yard, on Burr Oak Drive, to teach others how to see everyday objects creatively.

In 2011 when both parents died, local artist Betsy Peterson’s brother created a gift box of edible chocolate acorns representing their mom’s art teaching. While helping him look for a connection between acorns and Christmas, Skip and Betsy, each on separate computers in Pennsylvania and Iowa, pulled up a woodcut image of a white oak leaf. Over the phone, Skip told Betsy to turn the illustration of the oak leaf upside down, and suddenly they both gasped at what they saw . . . the shape of a Christmas tree.

Having witnessed the family’s grieving the loss of their creative mother and generous father and having observed first-hand the brother and sister’s clever discovery of the upside down oak leaf’s Christmas tree shape, Skip’s wife, Katie, sat down and drafted “The Orphans and the Oak.” Betsy quickly responded with initial illustrations of the characters described.

When Skip unexpectedly died on Thanksgiving day 2018, a colleague asked whether she could help bring the book to life, and that is what happened. So the story of The Orphans and The Oak hopefully touches hearts with its message of hope, healing and happiness.

Peterson will be signing copies of the book at her gallery at 1121 Second St. in downtown Perry and giving public readings at several venues next week:

  • Friday, Nov. 8 at 6 p.m. at Beaverdale Books, 2629 Beaver Ave. in Des Moines
  • Saturday, Nov. 9 at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the Perry Public Library
  • Sunday, Nov. 10 at 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. at the Perry Public Library

Peterson credited her mother, a public school art teacher, for showing her how to look at the world in a true and original way.

“All of us kids would say that’s a gift she gave us,” Peterson said. “She taught us to see things creatively, to escape the prison of the everyday. Blake said, ‘The eye altering, alters all.’ Our mother taught us the truth of that.”

Thursday, Nov. 14 will mark the fifth anniversary of the opening of Betsy Peterson Designs, and Peterson and her potter husband, Eric Peterson, will celebrate the milestone with a First Look event from 7-9 p.m. Visitors will snack on sweets while sneaking peeks at the latest seasonal designs from the Petersons’ studio.

The First Look event will coincide with the second annual Marjean Gries Memorial Perry Children’s Christmas Fund fundraising raffle. All proceeds from the First Look ticket sales and raffle will go toward supporting needy Perry-area children in honor of Gries, who taught physical education in the Perry school system for 34 years.

Gries’ son, Casey Baldwin, and his wife, Kelly Baldwin, will join the Petersons to share the love with the Perry community, with winetasting and live music helping to raise holiday spirits.


  1. I read about this book in “Destination” magazine that Garden Spot Village sends out. I am very interested in purchasing the book “The Orphans and the Oak” but I don’t know where to find it.

    I would appreciate any help you can give me in locating book. Thank you.


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