Restaurateur/Folk Artist (1890-1973)
Peter A. Contis (Panagiotis Athanasios Kontogiannis) was born on May 28th 1890 in Vlahokerasia. He was known as "Notis".
A successful restaurant owner for many years, he turned to painting late in life, but established himself as a folk painter in that short period of time. His artwork was notable not only for depicting American landscapes - especially of Pittsburgh- but also for returning to Greek scenes, including those of Vlahokerasia and even the Hagia Sophia church. The style of his paintings is very recognizable, made up of flat images composed of countless, colorful dots. Among his exhibits was one at the Pittsburgh National Bank.
Panagiotis Kontogiannis arrived in Ellis Island in 1910, and upon arriving in Pittsburgh, he and his two brothers changed their name to Contis, and Panagiotis became "Peter."
Before long the brothers together bought a small restaurant, “The Buffalo”. In 1914, Peter purchased “The Chicago”, serving mill workers and travelers. (His brother George was tragically killed in World War I, shortly before the Armistice, while serving in the U.S. Army in France.)
Peter Contis returned to Greece in 1926 to find a wife - and that's where he met Helen Stamatopoulos, who hailed from Kollines, the village next to Vlahokerasia.
The new couple returned to the US in 1928 only to find their restaurant business in shambles due to economic duress of the times. Not long afterwards, Peter opened The “Neon Grill” restaurant, which would sustain the family - and those of many of their Greek patriots for many decades. The couple had three children, Athanasios (Art), George and Artemis.
Peter began painting in 1963, encouraged by a neighbor who was a sculptor.
To read more about this fascinating life, see Byzantine Butterflies, a book by Peter Contis' architect friend David Lewis, which includes an extended section of beautifully printed examples of Contis' artwork.
Sample of his work:
Link about Helen Contis, his wife, who also started painting very late in life: