When Anne Patterson ’75 was in ninth grade, she attended a faculty reception at the Headmaster’s house. Albrecht “Brec” Saalfield, the Headmaster, and his then wife Agnes Gund, a well-known art collector, invited artists Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Christo to their home to meet the faculty and ninth graders. The three artists are legends in the modern art world, however, at the time Ms. Patterson hadn’t heard of them. She recalls the event vividly.
“I didn’t even really know who they were, but they struck me then as quirky and so interesting,” says Ms. Patterson. “They seemed like regular people, and it demystified what being an artist meant. That meeting had a big impact on my thinking of myself as an artist.”
Now a prominent, award-winning artist in her own right, Ms. Patterson returned to GCDS on Oct. 15 to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award, which is voted upon annually by the Alumni Advisory Council. She was awarded the honor in 2020 but had to delay accepting it until this fall due to COVID-19. While on campus, Ms. Patterson presented photos and videos of her work in the Performing Arts Center to Middle School students who listened intently to the inspiration, meticulous research, and the physical labor behind Ms. Patterson’s large-scale installations and sculptures. Later in the day, she visited the Upper School art classes for a more intimate talk with students.
“Thank you for sharing your magnificent work with us today,” said Head of School Adam Rohdie. “We are very proud of all that you have accomplished in your career. You join a list of venerated alumni who are having a deep and meaningful impact on the world.”
“Ms. Patterson’s installations are incredibly creative and unique, and throughout her presentation, I felt like I was there in person interacting and viewing every one of them,” said eighth-grader Layla Morris. “Her presentation has pushed me to take my time and stay determined in my own art, along with taking more creative abstract approaches that people wouldn’t necessarily expect.”
Ms. Patterson is a multi-disciplinary artist who works out of her studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Her large-scale installations made of miles of fabric, aluminum ribbon, and metal birds have hung from the ceilings of cathedrals, hotels, theaters, symphony halls, and fashion houses. Currently, she is working on a permanent ribbon installation for the lobby of the new Capital One headquarters, which is under construction in Tysons Corner, Virginia, and slated for completion in 2022.
Her artwork has also been displayed in galleries around the world. The installations are often accompanied by projections, music, and scents for a full sensory experience. Ms. Patterson also paints abstract watercolors, which draw their inspiration from nature, and does metalwork. She especially loves working with piano wire.
After Country Day, Ms. Patterson attended the Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, CT, and later Yale University to study architecture. She initially worked in the film industry in New York as a set designer and eventually switched to theater work, finding it more challenging and creative. To further her education in this area, she attended the Slade School of Fine Art in London and received a master’s degree in set and costume design.
“That was a great decision. It was then that I became an artist designing for the theater.”
Early in her career, she worked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music designing sets for the Brooklyn Philharmonic.
“We had little money, and we had to be very inventive, creative, and collaborative,” she said. “Back then, few people were creating sets and installations for symphonies. It felt radical and very exciting.”
It was around this time that Ms. Patterson discovered that she had synesthesia, a neurological condition that blends the senses. When she hears music, classical music in particular, she sees shapes and colors.
I was working on the set of the opera, Barber of Seville. I heard the music and knew right away that the set should have oranges, pinks, and reds. A conductor friend suggested that I may have synesthesia based on the way I talked about music. Once I identified my condition, I really went for it. I continue to use the way I hear and see music to inspire my paintings and sculptures.”
When asked about her favorite project, she talks about “Graced with Light,” a large-scale ribbon installation in the Grace Church Cathedral in San Francisco where she was selected to be artist-in-residence in 2013. It was also the 100th year anniversary of the cathedral’s Men & Boys Choir. While listening to cellist Joshua Roman play in that majestic space, she saw lines shooting from the music in her imagination.
“I had utilized ribbon in a theatrical production and realized it was the perfect material to convey the lines that I saw as I listened to Joshua’s cello. The ribbons hanging from the vaulted ceiling caught the light streaming through the stained-glass windows and vibrated from the existing air currents. The ribbons became a series of light pathways connecting heaven and earth. By taking an ordinary material like ribbon and multiplying it so many times, I made something magical that resonates and speaks to people.”
Along with members of the Grace Church community, she hung 13 miles of ribbon from the catwalk creating an awe-inspiring installation that was exhibited for nearly three years.
“It was one of those projects that I felt was coming through me, but was really something from up above, and it had a pro-found effect on people. They wrote their dreams, prayers, and wishes and attached them to the ribbons.”
Ms. Patterson grew up in a family where art played a big part in their lives and she remembers going to museums, theaters, and the symphony as a young person. Her mother, Anne Mimi Sammis, is also an artist focusing on watercolors and sculpture who became serious about pursuing art professionally during Anne’s childhood. She considers her mother
a major inspiration and, in fact, the two had a mother and daughter show at the Jessica Hagen Gallery in Newport, RI, this past summer.
When Ms. Patterson reflects on her time at Country Day, she is grateful for the focus on excellence that was instilled in her during those formative years.
“You just couldn’t do anything halfway. Whether you were on the sports field or in English class, the bar was set high by the incredible teachers, and I have carried that value forward in my life.”
In particular, she remembers her art teacher Mr. Levitt. “He was very serious about art and viewed it as important as any other academic subject. He gave art a sense of gravitas and that had a big influence on me.”
Ms. Patterson is thrilled about receiving the GCDS Distinguished Alumni Award. “As I’m getting older, it’s really special to be able to look back on my school days, remember what that time meant to me, and think about the values instilled in me at Country Day that have lasted a lifetime. Over the years, the fact that the school has paid attention to my career is humbling. I feel very honored.”