Super Senior: As the years roll by, Peggy Levine’s life shows few signs of slowing |

Super Senior: As the years roll by, Peggy Levine’s life shows few signs of slowing

Peggy Levine stands on the porch of the North Star House where she has spent a lot of time and effort working on the restoration of the house that Julia Morgan designed.
Elias Funez/ |

Few people know that Peggy Levine’s real name is Margaret Warner Swan, and even fewer know that her artwork entitled “Dried Flowers #2” has been collected by the Library of Congress and featured in the book, “100 Years of California Society of Printmakers, 1913-2013.”

“Etching is done by hand,” Peggy said. “The process is 400 to 500 years old. These are limited-edition prints. This is not commercial art replicated by machines,” explained Peggy.

Peggy, always the philanthropist, often devotes 40 hours each week volunteering with a variety of organizations. But she always finds time for her art. Peggy’s medium of choice is etching, and she spends joyful hours in the Levine’s two printmaking studios.

The Art World

“My etchings are a way of putting order in my life,” said Peggy. “I love to draw realistically and I am fascinated by the patterns lines make. I love to draw floral arrangements. I also frequently draw interiors full of stuff. A Martha Stewart environment would not interest me.”

Both Peggy and her husband, Grass Valley Mayor Howard Levine, have degrees in Fine Art Printmaking. The Levine’s home is filled with an extensive collection of their etching and printmaking art. In addition, several of Peggy’s etchings are on display at the Alexander Gallery in Nevada City.

Over the years, Peggy has shared her art expertise with others. In the 1980s, she taught print making in elementary schools. A California Arts Council grant allowed her to present the program in every school in the Nevada County. She’s also taught water color painting in adult education.

Art has been a driving influence in Peggy’s life for as long as she can remember. She grew up in the Berkeley Hills in an art-centered family, and began putting her creative ideas on paper in grammar school.

“I started drawing from the get-go,” Peggy said. “I just liked to draw. I remember my fourth-grade teacher had me do artwork for the classroom. I blame her for my lower math skills.”

History and the house

Her parents also exposed Peggy to major theater performances.

“I have Eve Arden-signed autograph books,” Peggy said proudly.

Her parents not only immersed Peggy in the arts and art projects, they exposed her to volunteerism and nonprofit organizations. As a child, she helped build sets for her mother’s theater company. Her father was a volunteer firefighter.

While attending college at San Francisco State, Peggy met and married the love of her life in 1968. She and Howard enjoyed a carefree lifestyle in The City until 1975, when they moved to Grass Valley and bought a Queen Anne-style Victorian, which they named The Swan Levine House.

“Our first two years here involved a top-to-bottom renovation, with all new sheetrock and wiring,” Peggy said. “At first, we planned to make the house into an art school and boarding house, but it morphed into a Bed and Breakfast with four guest rooms.”

Peggy dove into her volunteer work with vigor as her two sons and one daughter grew older and more independent.

volunteering for … everything

She helped found the Nevada County Arts Council, served on the boards of the Foothill Theater Company and Center for the Arts, and conducted fund-raising for Music in the Mountains. In addition to hosting visiting musicians for the past 35 years and opening The Swan Levine House twice for home tours, Peggy has helped create set pieces for Music in the Mountains functions.

If you want to see Peggy in person, attend any number of local events — she’ll likely be there. She’s a regular at South Yuba River Citizens League fund-raisers, Cornish Christmas, Thursday Night Market, Music in the Mountain concerts, nearly every theater production staged in western Nevada County, fundraisers for Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital including Starry, Starry Nights, the annual Bounty of the County, plus affairs held at the North Star House.

“We don’t have time for everything,” said the 72-year-old super senior, who has seven grandchildren.

Another accomplishment of which she’s proud involves the Holbrooke Hotel. She, Howard, and business partners purchased the historic hotel in 1990. Howard helped out for a few years, but Peggy managed the business solo from 1995 until the day they sold it in 2002.

These days, Peggy has four primary volunteer efforts: the North Star House, Grass Valley’s Historical Commission, Sierra College Foundation, and Ladies Relief Society.

In 2006, Peggy jumped into what might be considered her most ambitious project to date when she joined the board of the North Star Historic Conservancy. Some of her duties include helping manage events at the North Star House such as concerts, weddings, meetings, and fundraisers.

“I am enchanted by architectural history,” she said.

As an appointed member of the Grass Valley Historical Commission, Peggy enjoys her involvement in maintaining the historical accuracy of designated buildings.

“We have research about the downtown historical district,” she said. “And we encourage people to keep the historic look of their buildings. We try to help them. “

Now in her seventh year on the commission, Peggy is proud of her contribution to a new tour book featuring historical buildings located in Grass Valley’s downtown.

Peggy’s work with the Sierra College Foundation-Nevada County Campus Coordinating Council has many facets.

“The council sponsors a student art show, conducts small fund-raisers, solicits donations for scholarships and staffs booths at the annual Sierra College Marketplace,” Peggy explained.

Peggy is also a 30-year member of the Grass Valley Ladies Relief Society.

“It’s one of the oldest charitable foundations in the entire country,” shared Peggy. “It dates back to the 1880s and the Donation Day Parade. Today, we organize the annual parade, feed the less fortunate, provide dental care to those who can’t afford it, and give scholarships to help women progress in careers.”

Despite national honors for her art and local appreciation for her generosity and altruism, Peggy remains grounded and self-deprecating.

“The only real job I’ve had besides running this (The Swan Levine) house is running the Holbrooke,” she said. “Before that, I was raising kids.”

Moving forward

In January, Peggy was diagnosed with leukemia. She’s undergoing treatment through a UC Davis clinical trial with the help of Dr. David Campbell at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital.

She’s optimistic.

“It’s a way of continuing to be here,” she said. “I just want to keep doing what I do. My whole life is art.

“I’m not stopping.”

This story is one in an occasional series about Nevada County’s “Super Seniors” written by freelance writer Lorraine Jewett. She can be reached at

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