Julie (“Little Virgie”) Patton
2022 The Robert P. Bergman Prize
To claim Julie Patton is an award-winning artist is to insult understatement. Today,
though, Julie says that most of finding her way into the arts as a child was unplanned.
“I didn’t want to be an artist, but I grew up with my mom [multimedia artist, Virgie Ezelle Patton] making art and my grandfather and my aunt were folk artists,” she remembers. “At the time Karamu House was very vibrant with the visual arts, and the Supplementary Education Center exposed students to all of the arts, so I was always surrounded by arts and artists,” she remembers.
Additionally, at the tender age of 11, Julie had an extremely formative arts education experience with her mother, who came home the day after the Hough Riots and started gathering supplies, including some of her father’s old shirts.
“She said, ‘Julie, come with me!’ We ended up in a school or a church basement in Hough, and I watched her work with the children to distract them, center them,” she recalls. “There were other artists, and they were well-organized to be the avant-garde of a healing measure using art as an intervention.”
Julie went on to study at Antioch University near Boston, where she fell in love with the architecture of the arts department building. “I want to be in that building,” she says. “It felt like a good place for people who don’t really know what they want to do but want to explore different things.” She was also attracted to the “big campus of green space” that was “like being in school, but in the wilderness right on campus.”
Her deeply ingrained environmentalism grew out of that experience and also watching many of her Glenville neighbors work with their hands to create things from bricks to stained glass windows. Those experiences fueled her organic instincts not to waste or buy a lot of art materials, but rather to recycle and reuse when she creates assemblages, collages or paintings.
“I see art as being in service to the environment,” Julie comments. “So I decided to be a minimalist, but I think that was the tradition of my family and my community.”
She spent many years living, creating and performing in New York, where she lived in the artist-centric East Village. One of her collaborators, Janice Lowe, a composer-poet in New York who is also a native Clevelander, says: “As a visual artist, she’s always, always, always making something in every room. Every space that she inhabits is like an installation!”
Lowe adds that Julie transcends what the term “artist” means. “Regarding her performances with jazz musicians, she is regarded as a new musical instrument with music and words somehow coming out of her mouth, and she can improvise text just as magically as she writes.”
As a sound poet and composer, she collaborated with guitarist Paul Van Curen and Janice Lowe in their group Rock Paper Sisters. She cut her teeth in music improvising with musicians as diverse as Nasheet Waits, Henry Grimes, Ravi Coltrane, Uri Caine, and Eddie Bobe among others. She’s taught poetics and creative writing at Naropa University, NYU, and served as a guest lecturer, curriculum adviser and performer in the U.S. and abroad.
Julie is the recipient of the New York Arts-in-Education Roundtable Award, and with Cecilia Vicuna, a Touchstone Center for Children Research Fellowship. She is also a New York Foundation for the Arts (Poetry) awardee, and was a Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Core Artist Residency Fellow in its inaugural year. She worked for Studio In A School, Teachers & Writers Collaborative, Guggenheim Learning through Arts, NYC Board Of Education District 5/Central Harlem, Cooper Union and others.
In 2001, Julie returned to Cleveland as a Visiting Professor in Creative Writing at Case Western Reserve. She’s also worked for the Center for Contemporary Art and as a consultant for Gund Foundation’s Creative Writing Collaborative. In 1987, she established a Glenville-based community archive to assist aging artists with keeping themselves and their work present and valued, starting with editing and publishing Russell Atkins’s work (Crayon Journal, 1999) and Womb Room Tomb, a permanent site- specific installation dedicated to the work of her late mother.
Over several decades, Julie’s worked closely with arts patron Arcey Harton to keep her center afloat. She is a published author of texts and literary installations. A recent highlight of Julie’s artist practice in Cleveland was her inclusion in the first Front Biennial. As a new international art festival, Front recognized the importance of including Julie and her East Boulevard “Let It Bee Ark Hive” art center.