To Delaware artist and teacher Abby Patterson, perfection is overrated. She describes her style as “primitive on purpose,” “folk-y” and “whimsical.” Early influences on her artwork include Lyonel Feininger, Ben Shahn and Alice Neel, she says, noting an authentic, personal feeling to their work. “That’s what I’m drawn to,” she says, “more of a human, less perfect feel.”
Patterson works part-time at Wild Thyme, a flower and gift shop in Centreville where she sells her wares, and also teaches studio arts at Centreville Layton School. Her own personal style shows up in her lessons in interesting ways, she says, and her students are a source of inspiration: “There are things that the kids do that will trigger something or bring something up.…I love working with the kids.”
At Wild Thyme, her array of hand-painted pottery gleams with vibrant colors—think rich royal blues and rosy corals—and is decorated with quirky patterns. One can sense the expressive influence of Feininger in her unpolished, graphic linework.
“I like a little bit of humor and a little bit of a question mark, like, ‘What does that mean?”
“I like graphics, so I like playing with different colors and different designs,” she says. “I like a little bit of humor and a little bit of a question mark, like, ‘What does that mean?’” Patterson points out.
Patterson’s background in printmaking seeps into her painting style with a striking folksiness that feels fresh and playful. She paints animals on her ceramics, as well as “a lot of food, like apple cores,” she says. “Anything that’s a little bit funny and very different and also graphically pleasing—that’s the challenge.”
A native of Bridgeport, Connecticut, Patterson spent part of her childhood in Stowe, Vermont. She attended Prescott College in Arizona, where she studied education and ceramics, and then earned her MFA in printmaking at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. She’s never tied herself down to one medium, she says, but has instead experimented with many. Right now she’s gravitating toward pottery the most. “I like the functionality of it, and there’s not so much pressure with the design, whereas when you’re making a drawing or a painting, it feels like there’s a little bit more pressure for concept and that kind of thing. I like knowing that my pieces will be in peoples’ everyday lives,” she says.
Her relationship with Wild Thyme started with a gift—Patterson gave Laurie de Grazia, the shop’s owner, a bowl that she’d thrown and painted. De Grazia commissioned Patterson to make more. They sold well, and the enterprise expanded from there.
Her advice for young artists is practical and warm: “If you love doing it enough and you can be self-driven and disciplined enough, I think you can make it. It might take a while—I sure as hell haven’t made it yet,” she laughs. “But I am happy where I’m at.”