Wendy Newbold Patterson cannot change history. She cannot go back to Dec. 14, 2012, and stop the gunman who killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But with her art, she hopes to help the rest us live with more compassion and love.
“Art balances the negative forces in the world,” said Patterson, who is showing her emotionally charged series of wax paintings, “The Twenty: An Elegy for the Children of Newtown, CT,” at Gray Public Library in her hometown. “It’s a creative force against a destructive force. I don’t want to argue about the issues. It’s about compassion and nurturing compassion. That’s what art is to me.”
Her paintings are on view at the library through Jan. 29. This is a series of small encaustic paintings of children being held, hugged and embraced by an adult, and a larger abstract piece that she calls “Children’s Laughter in the Apple Tree.”
Laughter, Patterson said, connects us all.
“We can’t get around our political biases, but we can identify with the laughter of children,” she said.
Patterson began the paintings to respond to the Newtown massacre. Her granddaughter is around the same age as the 6- and 7-year-olds who were killed. Her paintings are sweet, soft and sensitive, without feeling sentimental. She depicts parents carrying their children on their hips and sitting with them on their laps. She based some of the paintings on her two grandkids, whom she routinely draws. She also observed other children and their parents. One image is based on a scene Patterson witnessed while riding a train — a mother braiding her daughter’s hair.
Patterson uses two poems in this work. One is “Four Quarters” by T.S. Eliot, who alludes to the laughter of children. The other is “The Return” by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Earth cannot count the sons she bore:
The wounded lynx, the wounded man
Come trailing blood unto her door
She shelters both as best she can.
It’s a poem about loss, and Patterson included it to ensure that grief is present in this work.
“It’s not enough to say there are laughing children,” she said. “We also have to talk about the loss and how to resolve it. This poem resolves it for me.”
This is the fourth time Patterson has shown this series. Anne Zill, who directs the art gallery at the University of New England, included these paintings in a previous exhibition, and they’ve been shown at Fiddlehead Center for the Arts in Gray and a church in Richmond.
Patterson chose wax as a medium for this series because of its expressive nature. These paintings are layered with figurative line drawings, small pieces of colored paper, gobs of paint, type-written words of poetry and her mother’s own handwriting. Most of the paintings are small — 6-by-8 inches. She made them small so people get close to look.
“I wanted them to be intimate and not so daunting,” she said. “I wanted that intimacy and immediacy.”
WHEN: Through Jan. 29; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Gray Public Library, 5 Hancock St.
INFO: 207-657-4110 or pattersonstudios.us