Margaret Petersen was born in Seattle in 1902. She received a B.A. and a Masters degree from the University of California, Berkeley, where she studied under Hans Hoffman. In 1931 she studied with Vaclav Vytlacil and André L’Hôte in Paris. Her interest in Native cultures from North and Central America took her to Mexico, Central America (1934) and British Columbia (1935).
For 22 years Petersen taught at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work was exhibited in solo shows at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, San Francisco (1933, 1960); Biblioteca Nacional, Mexico City (1934); Henry Museum, Seattle (1934); the San Francisco Art Museum, Civic Center (1950, 1958, 1973); Du Casse Studio, San Francisco (1958); University of California, San José (1958), Monterey Peninsula Chapter of American Federation of Arts, California (1965), Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (1950, 1959, 1962 and a retrospective in 1978). Her work was also included in prestigious group exhibitions, including the forth and fifth Biennial Exhibitions of Canadian Art, National Gallery, Ottawa (1961, 1963) and the Sao Paulo Biennale, Brazil (1963).
Petersen earned many awards, including the Tansig traveling fellowship, University of California (1931-1932); first prize, San Francisco Women Artists (1936, 1952); Purchase Award San Francisco Art Association (1942); first prize, San Francisco Art Association (1947); Blue Ribbon, Pacific Artists Festival (1952); and Canada Council Senior Grant (1963). Petersen’s work has been acquired by many private and public collections, including the Confederation Memorial Building, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island; National Gallery of Canada; Oakland Art Museum, California; Palace of Legion of Honor, San Francisco; University of Victoria and others.