From dropout to doodle workshops
-- and life in between
At 63, this recent art school graduate fulfils a lifelong promise Pete McMartin, Vancouver Sun, Thursday, May 24, 2007
Last Saturday, the Arts & Life section of The Vancouver Sun reviewed this year's exhibit of works by the graduating students of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, and of 300 works on display, the review's main illustration was a bright painting entitled Dancing In The Sunlight. It took up most of the page.
In the story, reporter Kevin Griffin described it as: "Strongly gestural with bright, bold colours that pop, the painting has an almost haphazard, messy quality -- as if it was created by chance."
(Read the rest of the article below.)
Patrica is a delightful addition to Gallery Digital. There will be many more paintings shown here in the near future. Patrica's Gallery
There is a story behind every story, and the story behind Dancing In The Sunlight is the painting's artist, Patricia Butchart. In his review, Griffin gave her name, which was probably all he would, or could, know of her.
What wasn't given was her age. She's 63.
At this age, most people are planning to retire or have done so. Butchart was graduating with her fine arts degree.
This, as it turns out, was a promise kept, one it took her 50 years to fulfil.
"I failed Grade 9," she said. "I got 13 and 35 in algebra and geometry, and I dropped out of school. But I promised my mother I would pass high school and, eventually, go to university and get a degree."
Between then and now came -- as Butchart put it -- "you know, life."
She fails Grade 9. Gets daytime job at Montreal's Sun Life as mail girl. Job entails running up and down 22 flights of stairs all day. Works there five years. Meanwhile, takes night school courses two nights a week. Ends up passing with a 98 per cent average. On nights off, goes dancing.
Gets married. Has kids. Husband's job takes family to Saudi Arabia for two years. Comes back to Canada. Husband dies at age 39 in car accident. Three kids, no savings, no training. Goes back to work. Becomes secretary. Discovers impossibility of putting three kids through university on $20,000 a year salary. Friend suggests she consider selling real estate since, no small irony this, she has good head for figures and mortgages.
Tries it. Starts slow. Ends up as a leading salesperson. Gets remarried. Second husband has three kids of his own. She raises all six kids. Time passes. Gets divorced. Divorce devastates her. Ten years ago, leaves on trip to California to pick up award for real estate sales and, on way, stops in Vancouver.
On whim, phones up old colleague from Quebec. Old colleague convalescing from recent hip operation. Offers to come visit and take care of him. One thing leads to another. Old colleague becomes third husband. They settle in West End.
In all this time, Butchart harbours a love of art.
She started painting 25 years ago when she was raising her children, and found it had a calming, therapeutic effect on her. She wouldn't have called what she did "art" then -- she didn't think of herself as an artist. But she would take classes wherever she was. Her approach was always intuitive, she said.
"I can't draw," she said, "or at least I've always said I can't draw."
Four years ago, she decides to do something about her promise to her mother.
She enrols in Langara's fine art program. She completes the two-year program there and then enrols at Emily Carr to get her bachelor of fine arts. Two years later, she does.
"I always said when I was 65 I would go back to university. And then when I hit 60, I thought why wait for 65?"
She loved school. She loved going to school with students young enough to be her grandchildren. She did not feel old, she said, but she knows people who are old at 40.
"I'll still feel young. As long as I'm able to move, I'll be moving. My son said to me, 'If you're ever ready for the rocking chair, Mom, it'll be a rocket-propelled rocking chair.' "
She wants to use her degree to do art therapy. While she was going to school, she did art workshops for school kids, Alzheimer's patients, the blind, new immigrants -- anyone who might tap into the same calm and freedom of expression she finds in art. She calls them "doodle workshops." She encourages her workshop participants to just let themselves go.
That letting go is part of the story behind the story. During her school year, she had done a painting, but she felt something was missing. It looked half finished.
Alone in the studio at Emily Carr, she stood in front of the painting with brush in hand.