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The Step of Faith into the Self: Sharon’s Art, Patently Patten

The Step of Faith into the Self: Sharon’s Art, Patently Patten

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“I’m not sorry if I paint myself around the bend,” Sharon would say.

I first knew Sharon Patten sitting next to my cousin Kathe, both their heads upside down, scratching their dandruff into the folds of a magazine with Elvis booming in the background, “I’m all shook up.” Uh-huh-huh, uh-huh-huh, scratch again.

Who could shed the most dead skin? Their daily uniform consisted of a man’s long-sleeved button-down white shirt and bermuda shorts. If one turned the corner of State Fair Blvd. into Third Street, one might see four legs hanging from one tree in Sharon’s front yard, their two hidden heads plotting new clubs such as Do Whatever I Tell You Club which one day comprised walking backwards down our main street downtown, Ohio Street. We did. Hardly anyone noticed.

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Sharon sketching.

A visitor sinking down into Sharon’s living room sofa might have been surprised to see four eyes  staring up through that glass-topped coffee table: Sharon and Kathe concocting yet another club like the Qwertyuiop whose mission became the shoebox homes for their animal creations drawn from wooden stamps or bookmarks: their Beatrice Potter world?

With Sharon’s attractive mother, Lucy, shifting her attention to her various husbands, Sharon then moved in with her grandfather, Marion Hall, who encouraged her interest in horses. I thought she must be in heaven as her grandfather owned the local dairy and its irresistible and all she could-ever-want-to eat Tullis-Hall ice cream.

Sharon and I began to ride horses together when she was eighteen. Even though she was nine years older than me, she treated me like an equal. Besides our love of horses, she invited me to her house and into some of her world.

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“Success,” 1987

My first vision of Sharon’s world was her opening drawers either side of her bed, revealing the shoebox creations from the Qwertyuiop Club, those miniature houses with tiny creatures at home inside, every detail fitting, easeful. I was entranced. I began to notice even as she carved carefully with her even white teeth a select bite of a snickerdoodle (her mother Lucy’s specialty), Sharon’s eyes. They seemed considering, not just the luxurious, dissolving sugar and cinnamon on our tongues but some inner rumbling, perhaps even tastier.

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My grandmother, Sharon, my mother Mary, her grandmother, and Sharon’s mother Lucy at my 10th birthday party at the Sedalia Country Club in 1962.

Sharon had the knack of nurturing nature into art. To celebrate one Halloween, she transformed her gorgeous horse, Prince, into an African Chief using  saved chicken bones and Prince’s own hay for his tribal dress. Like the horses in the cave at Chauvet from 30,000 years ago, Sharon’s art also grew out of her natural world. When Prince was accidentally electrocuted, Sharon’s life collapsed, broke down. Yet, it was this terrible time and turmoil that brought her art from her core. She stood up, chose art and got her B.F.A.; then won a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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Sharon in her studio.

In her studio in Kansas City, her multitude of cats crisscrossed her canvases in the morning light, keeping her close to the thing itself–her expression, combing her breath, cat stroke and brush stroke. It took a lot of paint for Sharon to get to her point. Windsor and Newton loved her (and did the toxicity in paint kill her, one can’t help but wonder?). Layer upon layer of oil spread with a palette knife was Sharon’s technique. She was not driven but drawn to paint. She said in an interview that it was her own honesty she discovered. That was the most important thing, to follow that central impulse to who you are. Her thick paint and patterns, often on oversized canvases seem to charge the world to fess up.

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The studio.

She took the palette knife straight from her heart to us. From miniature cardboard to her later magnificent oil canvases stretching over nine feet, the breath of Sharon’s vision is still warm. Shoeboxes and shadows, horse sense and cat sinewing, Sharon’s magnanimous strokes strike still, attesting to her courage and wisdom. She tunes us back to wonder.

 


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Art over Disease

Art over Disease

I don’t have a photo of Inez but every time I see kelp and seaweed, I look again because of Inez. I had watched her sketching the kelp, holding her pencil like a claw, her art opening despite her arthritic fingers. Her smile was huge, scalloped like the shore despite her brain tumor. She drew the tide scrawls and the texture bumps of the sand with sandpiper footprints between them, footprints like neumes: high, low singing in the sand all over the place.

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I had only known Inez a year when she lost her voice, her ability to use language; she had aphasia. Her voice drowned in a dead room too far from the ocean. But she could cry with frustration. Her body grew with the tumor, puffed up with morphine and death cells. Her tongue wouldn’t work around her words, but her arthritic hands still grasped the pencil.

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Pearl Harbor on the Bayou

Pearl Harbor on the Bayou

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Tat (center) on her way from California to Jerome Internment Camp, Arkansas in 1942. Jerome eventually housed some 16,000 Japanese Americans forcibly removed from the West Coast during World War II.

There was no sea there to search for pearls for a California girl, a coastal creature used to the magnificent Pacific at her feet. Instead, she had been railed into a swamp along the Mississippi Delta. Despite the barbed wire and chigger-infested woods, Tat carved with her penknife pearls out of hard walnut: miniature heads of horses and flying squirrels.

She had been sent to a camp in Jerome, Arkansas in 1942, a native Californian designated as Jap. As those bombs dropped, she too lost everything: her home and her newly created floral shop opened just two days before, on December 6, 1941. They tried to take away her identity as well. It didn’t work. Tat had been the high-school class president and baseball star, the daughter un-colleged so that her brothers might succeed. From that wounding culture and devastating war, the artist carved her purposeful path, sliver by sliver.

Thecaregivers Newport Beach, senior care Newport Beach, Senior services Newport Beach, home care Newport Beach, caregivers Newport Beach, health Newport beach, caregivers Laguna Beach, estate planning, nursing homes, assisted living, home care, elder care, hospice care, caregiver, caretaker, carer, senior care, elderly estate planning, senior living, geriatric care, senior home care, caregiver jobs, caregivers Newport Beach, caregivers Laguna Beach, senior care Newport Beach, senior care Laguna Beach, elder care Newport Beach, elder care Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, Oasis Newport Beach, senior services Newport Beach, senior Newport Beach, senior living Newport Beach, best caregivers Newport Beach, best caregivers Orange County scrape and huff of locomotives and boxcars carrying troops and weapons screeched daily by the camp, a cruel reminder of her coming. If Tat winced, she carried on to the woods. Escaping the desolation in faces and deprivation of the unplumbed, unheated compound, she gathered scraps of walnut or southern pine to carve. Out of that unwanted swampland along the Mississippi floodplain, foreign in the middle of her own country, Tat created a profile of courage.

She whittled her way out with dignity and grace—through her art. From her carvings and her post-war return to floral design, Tat evolved into a painter, a watercolorist: a water-collaborator with nature. Her paintings open spaces. She gives us pearls through her eye. “The past is never dead. It is not even past.”
 


Coral Tree In-home Care provide caregivers, old-fashioned kindness, and neighborly support to older adults who want to live at own home safely, comfortably, and as independently as possible. Since 2010 we’ve helped more than 250 families in Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Newport Coast, and neighboring Southern California communities live safer, happier lives.