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April 12, 2005 > The art of our environment

The art of our environment

by Susana Nuñez

While modern artists explore different mediums and themes, many overlook the natural art found in the environment. Local Newark artist Linda Patterson, however, long ago discovered the beauty and possibilities of different ecosystems and habitats.

As an artist and an individual, Patterson has always expressed a deep concern for the environment which is reflected in her murals using images of rare species such as the Western Burrowing Owl. Over the years, her projects have literally grown in size, with her most recent extending half a mile.

She has shared her public artwork throughout her career and given the community an opportunity to watch her art evolve. From murals to ceramics, Patterson has gained experience in many different mediums, but found something special in one in particular.

Apart from every art medium she has explored, decorative concrete art captured her attention for its life-size illustrations and incredible textures.

"I like it because it's durable, long lasting and versatile," said Patterson, "It works well as a medium for public art. Concrete can also serve as artistic canvases for walls, buildings, bridges and other structures."

Her latest concrete murals are located along the San Tomas Aquino/Saratoga Creek Trail, a pedestrian and bike trail in Santa Clara that connects to the San Francisco Bay trail. These realistic murals reflect the animals and habitat found along the creek trail. One of Patterson's goals in creating the series was to incorporate lifelike images from the habitat onto the murals. Their smooth finish has a one and a half inch relief that gives the illustrated environment texture, allowing vision-impaired trail goers to "see" and enjoy the surroundings as well.

Patterson worked with a design team made up of a landscape architect and an environmental planner. She also worked with a production artist at a concrete form-liner manufacturer in Denver. Created with sculpted clay murals, form-liners are the molds used in decorative concrete art. Each of the 15 12-foot long murals was sculpted in clay before the molds were made.

For the past two years, Patterson has been working on this project located at seven different overpasses in Santa Clara.

"The most important thing about this project is being able to share my art with many different people who use the trail," she said, "Children and the sight impaired can feel the animals, plants and birds and learn about the environment."

Her outstanding work has not been overlooked by the artistic world; her pictures of the Western Burrowing Owls were featured in the American Concrete Institute's centennial photo book, "Concrete: A Pictorial Celebration." Patterson took the original pictures in 1986 and was able to draw the owls from the photos and include them in the trail series.

Before embarking on this series, Patterson produced other public artworks. In 1990 she created a mural inspired by wetlands destruction. This self-proclaimed "artist-as-environmentalist" created a 61/2 foot by 15-foot mural constructed of handmade paper and gathered objects. These objects included a toxic pesticide container with animal teeth marks that she retrieved from a marsh and an egret with a plastic six-pack holder around its neck. Patterson used the mural as a means of reminding the public to think about their habits as consumers and what they can personally do to fight against the growing problem of environmental neglect.

Although her work has gone beyond the Tri-City area, her mural in the Ash Street Community Center in Newark is dear to her because she had the opportunity to work with local youngsters. The mural, painted on an 8-foot by 28-foot wall, features 23 different children involved in many fun activities. Irene Hentschke drew the design from a collage of photos taken over the years by Jerry Raber. Patterson describes it as "a wonderful community project" in which she "enjoyed bringing the outdoors in the room for the children to enjoy." She had been teaching art and mural painting to the children in the summer program and they assisted her in painting. The children involved have a personal connection since some posed for the piece and others who helped paint can view their own areas.

Besides concrete art, Patterson also has experience with oils, acrylics, watercolor, handmade paper, assemblage, collage, printmaking, ceramics, sculpture and drawing. She is currently teaching painting, cartooning and drawing to children at the Newark Silliman Center. Patterson has also been serving as vice chairwoman of the Tri-City Ecology Center for the past 11 years. Her artwork has been on exhibit at the Portola Valley Art Gallery for the past 10 years featuring California landscape paintings. Her passion, however, is concrete art and its great possibilities.

"I like to work 'big' and I want to continue working on monumental projects in the medium of concrete and create more public art," she said.

For more information contact Linda Patterson at (510) 790-0314 or visit her website at

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