Professional Portrait: Peter Adels

Looking for a gift for the person who has everything? Chances are you’ll find something that he or she doesn’t have at Blue Lotus Gallery, a unique boutique with everything from Tibetan rugs and furniture to jewelry and cashmere coats.

The gallery is run by ex-lawyer Peter Adels and his business partner, ex-architect Gregory Oliveri. PGN spoke with Adels about art, coming out and strap-ons.

PGN: How did the business get started? PA: The store came into being about two years ago when Gregory and I, who are partners here and formerly partner-partners, took a trip to Nepal. He’d lived in Nepal for years over a period of time. On occasion, he had been collecting and selling antiques at high-end auctions. By trade he’s an architect and went back to do a historic preservation on one of the palaces in Katmandu. I went with him and one of his associates there told us there was a huge shipment of stuff in the States from someone who was opening a business and then bailed on him. He asked what could be done with it and we decided to take it and get into wholesaling. That worked out so we eventually went into retail and here we are. We opened the store in September.

PGN: Were you in the business too? PA: No, I was a lawyer. But from day one of law school, I pretty much figured that it wasn’t for me. I went ahead anyway. I got into doing energy work with renewable energy way before it was fashionable. I got to be a key player in restructuring the electric industry and also in getting the wind industry started here in Pennsylvania.

PGN: What changes have you seen in environmental policy/problems back then as opposed to now? PA: It’s huge, huge. Even though I was a lawyer, my chief duty was to convince policymakers, the public and members of the industry that environmental concerns were something that needed to be addressed and that things like wind power were necessary and viable. Now people are more onboard with it. Obama gets it, people get it, industry is getting it. And more importantly, they’re starting to do something about it.

PGN: Is it difficult when you travel to other countries that aren’t onboard yet? PA: It’s heart-wrenching. In Nepal, it’s a crying shame. There’s no clean drinking water, the trash is everywhere, the rivers in the valley have almost no volume left and they’re piled with trash. The air is so polluted, about a third of the people are walking around wearing masks. Much of the year you can’t even see the Himalayas through the smog. It’s still enchanting if you go out into the countryside, but in the Katmandu Valley, which was pristine only 10 or 15 years ago, it’s a polluted megalopolis.

PGN: So where are you from? PA: I was born in Jackson Heights, N.Y. I lived there through high school and then moved to Philly to study law and city planning at Penn. I loved it here and never left. I love that it’s a big city with all the conveniences and yet so close to everything. Why the hell would you want to live in New York with all its problems and expenses when you can live 90 minutes away?

PGN: What did your parents do? PA: My dad was a classic Madison Avenue advertising guy, like in that AMC show “Mad Men.” He worked for practically every ad company in New York. I think he had 30 jobs in 30 years. My mom was a schoolteacher.

PGN: Any notable relatives? PA: The artist Barnett Newman is an uncle. He’s the guy who’s famous for painting stripes. That’s about it, though: I think most of the ancestors died in the Holocaust.

PGN: So what was it like growing up in New York? PA: I did typical things. I liked going down to the beach — around here you say “go down to the shore,” but in New York we say “the beach.” I was into ceramics in school and I was always very political. Even as a 12-year-old, I would volunteer for different political campaigns. In fact, some of my best friends today were people I met in ’72 working on the George McGovern campaign.

PGN: Are you an only child? PA: No, I have a sister. She’s two-and-a-half years older than me and she still lives in Long Island. [Mock whispering.] She’s the traditional one.

PGN: When did you start your coming-out process? PA: Well, I first came out when I was about 18 to friends and family, though I proceeded to live a very straight life. I didn’t really have any gay friends. I considered myself bi and I guess it was because I fell in love and married a wonderful woman and had three great kids. For about 10 years, it worked and then I found myself just aching, aching, aching inside, so I had what I call my second coming out. I went to a counselor and spoke to my wife about it.

PGN: How did she react? PA: Well, I waited until we were on vacation without the kids. We were driving through the Everglades in Florida and I said, “Honey, there’s something I really need to tell you. I’m gay.” She said, “I know that dear,” patted me on the shoulder and fell asleep. It started a real process where we worked together openly on it. First we talked about it, then we got to the point where we would walk down the street and point out guys we thought were hot, then we negotiated the terms where it was OK for me to be with men. It worked for a time, but then I met a guy who was also married with kids (part of the agreement on who I could date). In fact, the four of us went to dinner a few times. Everything was up front and open, I never did anything behind her back, but what wasn’t part of the agreement was that we fell in love. After that it got difficult. I could see how much pain it was causing her and I knew I wasn’t fully being myself either, so we finally decided to separate. It was hard because our relationship was perfect except for this one aspect. Then it took us a year to separate because her mom got leukemia. Oddly, it helped us because we were able to tell the whole family what was going on and they were able to see that even though we were going through this, we were still able to be caring and supportive of one another.

PGN: How did the kids handle it? PA: They were way easy. My oldest son, who was 16 at the time, told my wife, “At first I was so angry at Dad for being so selfish. How could he do this to all of us? Then I thought about it and realized, ‘My God, how could I be so selfish as to expect him to be anyone other than who he is?’” It took him one week to come to that conclusion. I’m so proud of them. My youngest son is graduating from high school this year and he’s deferring for one year before entering art school to go to Nepal with my oldest, who is a teacher/musician/sustainable agricultural guy. They are joining our Nepali gallery partners who run a school/orphanage there. It’s basically an elite school that doesn’t charge tuition. The kids are all street kids, though they’re not necessarily orphans. My youngest is going to teach and my oldest, who is also a filmmaker, is going to make a documentary about it.

PGN: So tell me about Gregory. PA: We joke and say he’s a recovering architect and I’m a recovering lawyer. He never really liked sitting at a computer and doing drawings. He’s always been more into historic preservation and his relationship with Nepal has been because of his work rebuilding temples and other facilities. He’s also a practicing Buddhist, which I’m not, though I’ve learned a lot from him. An interesting fact is that he’s fluent in Nepali. There are so many dialects that most Nepalese don’t even speak the language well, but he does. The last time we were there, we were sitting in a café and the director of the most popular TV show in Nepal overheard him. He now has a small part on the show! He’s the only Westerner to speak Nepali on a Nepali sitcom. He’s also conversant in Sanskrit, Hindi and Urdu. And he’s not bad in French either.

PGN: How did you two meet? PA: We originally met at the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus. It was one of those glance-of-an-eye meetings and we both knew. We were together for six years. Obviously a few problems interceded because we’re not romantic partners anymore, but I’ll love him for the rest of my life, the same as I do my ex-wife. You can still love someone without having to be together.

PGN: Are you still in the choir? PA: No, we both switched over to the Philadelphia Voices of Pride. They are a mixed choir and I just love singing with them. I love hearing the blend of so many different voices.

PGN: What’s a fond choir memory? PA: Many of the Voices of Pride came from the Spruce Street Singers, which was an all-male choir. For about 15 years, some of us have gone up to Hillside Campgrounds, which is an all-male, clothing-optional campsite, and had a blast. We’re actively trying to figure out a way to do it this year that would integrate the fact that we’re now in an LGBT chorus. We found another place that allows mixed genders that is also clothing optional, so we’ll see what everyone wants to do.

PGN: Hobbies? PA: Aside from singing, I like to hike with my dogs in Wissahickon Park. I have two dogs: One is a golden retriever named Ferris, after Ferris Bueller. I just shaved him for the summer so he looks like a little lion cub. And the other is named Poojah, which is a Nepali ritual ceremony. She’s a German sheperd-border collie mix.

PGN: What was the biggest business blunder in getting started? PA: Well, I guess in our case it would be timing! We signed the lease and six months later, when we were ready to open, is when the economy really started to collapse. Other than that, it would be working with the craftspeople. They are amazing at what they do, but there’s a real cultural difference. They don’t like confrontation, so we would make a design change and ask if they could do it, and they would say yes but then proceed to do it the same way they’ve done it forever. We’d ask for a shipment of 10 of something and they’d say OK and then ship two of them. We had to learn not to take special orders for some things. One of the neat things about the country is that they peacefully overthrew the monarchy last year. They now have a constitutional assembly, which has not quite managed to complete the constitution yet, but in the part that they’ve drafted so far, they’ve included complete full rights for LGBT people. Which is interesting because being gay is not accepted over there at all, but being transgender is accepted. On the other hand, it’s very easy to go under the radar because they’re very physically affectionate people. It’s common to see men of all ages or friendship levels holding hands or kissing or sharing a bed.

PGN: What do you enjoy about traveling? PA: Well, I’ve only been at this for a few years. What I can tell you is that despite the pollution, Nepal is enchanting. When you are there, you can’t help but feel the spirituality of the place, can’t help being in utter awe of the mountains, when you do see them or if you have a chance to actually go up into the Himalayas. I’m hoping to coordinate a business trip so I can meet my sons and show them around and go up to the mountains with them.

PGN: Scariest moment? PA: By far, traveling on the back of a motorcycle through Nepal with Gregory driving. Picture streets full of everything from small bicycles to powerful motorcycles, trucks, busses with people hanging off the sides, rickshaws and people walking every which way, all trying to get through the same intersection. There are no stoplights and the entire city is basically in a nonstop gridlock. They have traffic police, but nobody listens to them. Did I mention the cows and sheep just hanging out in the middle of the streets? It scared the crap out of me.

PGN: Favorite object you’ve brought back? PA: It’s very common in Hindu religion to have extremely representative genitalia in all sorts of artwork. I picked up these for my parents. [Holds up a long wooden phallus complete with fur in the appropriate spots and a wooden piece with a hole carved into it, also with appropriate symbolic pubic hair. Both are affixed with long ties at the back.] These are basically strap-ons! Used only for rituals. My parents are very liberal, but they live in one of those gated communities in Florida and decided that their neighbors would not care to stare at them on the wall over coffee, so they gave them back to me. One of the things I like is finding so many neat pieces. I like to find the little incidentals and, of course, Gregory is good at finding the unique and historic things.

PGN: You seem very people-oriented. PA: Oh yes, it comes with the territory. The product is so unique, every one wants to talk about it. It’ll remind them of a trip they took or want to take or we’ll talk about the conditions in other countries. We try to make sure all our items come from fair trade or economic development or sustainably made projects.

PGN: What do you each bring to the table? PA: Gregory is very knowledgeable about Hinduism and anything cultural or historic, so he’s really on the art design and antique side of the business. I do more of the business, marketing and PR stuff. I think I’m more gregarious, so I handle more of the customer relations, but we have a nice balance. In the end it all works.

Blue Lotus Gallery 1314 Sansom St. (215) 545-2800

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