Bowers Museum mourns the loss of its longtime president

Dr. Peter C. Keller, the late president of the Bowers Museum, is survived by his wife, Signe Keller.
(Courtesy of the Bowers Museum)

For more than three decades Dr. Peter C. Keller served as president and chief executive officer of the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. On Nov. 10 the museum announced Keller’s passing and the end of an era. Keller died on Nov. 8 at the age of 75.

“With his leadership and experience, we have brought amazing exhibits from all around the world to Orange County,” said Anne Shih, chairwoman of the museum’s board of governors, in a press release.

Keller joined the Bowers Museum in 1991 and in his time there oversaw two major building expansions. In October 1992 Bowers opened its doors to a crowd of 17,000 people in a space nearly six times larger than the original city-run museum of 1936. In 2007, Keller oversaw the opening of the new Dorothy and Donald Kennedy Wing, which added 30,000 square feet of space for the East West Bank and Anderson-Hsu-Tu galleries and the 300-seat Norma Kershaw Auditorium.

Besides expansion, Keller concentrated on bringing fine art and culture from around the world to the museum and Orange County as a whole.

Along with Shih, Keller forged partnerships with some of the world’s greatest museums, including the British Museum, the Palace Museums in Beijing and Taipei and the Museo del Oro in Bogotá, Colombia. The two colleagues traveled to China more than 100 times in the last 25 years, and the partnerships they spearheaded led to more than 50 exhibitions, like “Secrets of the Silk Road,” “Terra Cotta Warriors,” and “Mummies: Treasures from the British Museum.”

Bowers Museum President and CEO Peter Keller and Bowers Museum Chairwoman of the Board of Governors Anne Shih.
(Courtesy of the Bowers Museum)

Even on his final day, Keller was working to bring world-class art to Bowers, preparing for the opening of “Guo Pei: Art of Couture.” The show, highly anticipated by Keller, includes 40 works of couture art selected by Chinese fashion designer Guo Pei.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome back the world-famous couture designer, Guo Pei,” the late Keller said in a statement this fall. “In an entirely new exhibition opening Nov. 12, ‘Guo Pei: Art of Couture’ will present collections hand-chosen by the icon herself.”

The show is now open and runs through May 14.

Keller was born in Allentown, Penn. in 1947 and attended George Washington University where he earned a bachelor of arts in geology. He earned his master of arts and PhD in geology from the University of Texas at Austin, where he specialized in the geology of northern Mexico.

He put his expertise to use as the director of education at the Gemological Institute of America and also served as curator of mineralogy and later associate director for public programs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles before coming to Bowers.

An avid traveler, there were not many places Keller hadn’t been, but in 2022 he fulfilled a bucket-list adventure when he travelled with Ed Roski and his wife, Signe, to the South Pole.

Dr. Peter C. Keller, who led the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, has died at 75.
Dr. Peter C. Keller, who led the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, has died at 75.
(Courtesy of the Bowers Museum)

In 2013, the Orange County Arts Council awarded Keller a Helena Modjeska Cultural Legacy Award for lifetime achievement, and in 2021, the Bowers added his name above an entrance to the museum to honor 30 years of his leadership.

Keller is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren and will be privately buried in his hometown. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Bowers Museum. Donations will be used to grow his favorite permanent collection exhibition, “Spirits & Headhunters: Art of the Pacific Islands.”

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