Hester Laning Pepper, 95; started blind-artist group

Posted: May 17, 2002

Hester Laning Pepper, 95, of Gladwyne, an artist and founder of the National Exhibits by Blind Artists, died of heart failure Sunday at her home.

Mrs. Pepper founded the organization in Philadelphia in 1976 to highlight the work of visually impaired artists.

Every two years, the organization mounts an exhibit of the works of 50 artists who have been selected in a juried show. Vickie Collins, a board member of the organization, said the exhibit had been shown at art galleries and museums in Japan and around the country, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Last year, the exhibit was at the Philadelphia Art Alliance.

The organization receives funding from donations and grants.

Mrs. Pepper was active on the board until several years ago. "She was dynamic and inspiring in her dedication to blind artists," Collins said.

Mrs. Pepper was born at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md. Her father was an admiral and she grew up at Navy bases around the country.

In 1938, she married D. Sergeant Pepper, a physician in Philadelphia. From 1952 to 1973, the couple lived in Hartford, Conn., where she became involved in working with blind people and was chairwoman of the benefits committee for the Oak Hill School for the Blind.

Her son, T. Sergeant, said his mother was an accomplished portrait artist and had studied at the Moore College of Art.

"She saw the need for blind people to experience art," he said. In Hartford, she founded the Tactile Gallery for blind people at the Wadsworth Athenaeum.

After returning to the Philadelphia area in 1973, she volunteered with the Junior League and was involved with its Waterworks Restoration Project. To raise money for the project, she originated and chaired the "Galaxy of Trees" event to raffle decorated Christmas trees that stores had donated.

And she again became involved in services for blind people. In addition to founding the blind artists organization, she was on the board of the Associated Services for the Blind in Philadelphia. In 1994 she received the Associated Services' Louis Braille Award.

Mrs. Pepper's husband died in 1982. In addition to her son, she is survived by another son, H.L. Perry Pepper; a daughter, Laning Pepper Thompson; and seven grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. today at the Church of the Redeemer, Pennswood and New Gulph Roads, Bryn Mawr. Burial will be private.

Memorial donations may be made to National Exhibits by Blind Artists Inc., 919 Walnut St., Philadelphia 19107.

Contact Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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