Patton Visual Arts Center celebrates 20 years of inspiring creativity
by Jessica Bliss
The upper floor of the Patton Visual Arts Center was a hive of activity.
Sketches, fabric swatches, and inspiration boards adorned the walls. Lace draped between tables. Scraps of cloth — remnants of previous designs or swatches of fabric being considered for new ones — covered the floor and provided a burst of color and texture to the space. The whir of busy sewing machines added to the energetic atmosphere.
For three weeks during Winterim 2022, Luca Cyr '23 was one of two students who worked in the Connery Ellis Grissim Hall of Patton, turning the creative space into a fashion design studio. The collection of clothing Luca made helped her get into many high-caliber fashion programs for college.
Now, as the Harpeth Hall senior prepares to continue her artistic pursuits next year at Parsons School of Design in New York City next year, Luca reflects on the creative opportunities and instruction Harpeth Hall provided her. When it comes to selecting her favorite space in the Patton Visual Arts Center, the Harpeth Hall senior can’t choose just one.
From drawing to painting to AP Art, Luca has taken nine semesters of art classes in Patton during her high school career, and each of the state-of-the-art facility’s spacious, light-filled studios, galleries, and classrooms has given her and her classmates the opportunity to explore different materials and prompts and provided the resources needed to hone their artistic skills.
For Luca, working in Patton has opened a world of professional possibilities.
“Much like fashion,” she said, “I have also always loved creating art. Even if it's just doodling on the back of a paper in class, art is calming and grounding to me and pushes me to think about things in a unique perspective. …. I’m really glad I’ve been able tory t out so many styles of art at Harpeth Hall, because it really made me certain about my career path.”
This spring, as the Patton Visual Arts Center celebrates its 20th anniversary, the school commemorates the milestone by reflecting on the center's rich history and the many artistic accomplishments of its talented students and faculty. (Watch a video celebrating the 20th anniversary here.)
The vision to 'create greater and more beautiful' art
The Patton Visual Arts Center, given to Harpeth Hall by Richard and Robin Ingram Patton ‘84 in memory of Robin's grandmother and founding trustee Hortense Bigelow Ingram, opened its doors in 2003 and has since become a cornerstone of the school's fine arts program.
Over the past two decades, the Patton Visual Arts Center has been the backdrop for countless masterpieces created by Harpeth Hall students. From paintings and drawings to sculptures and multimedia installations, the center has showcased the impressive talents of the school's budding artists and helped hone the skills of young women who pursued careers in the arts.
"The Patton Visual Arts Center is a testament to Harpeth Hall's commitment to nurturing creativity and providing students with the resources they need to excel," Harpeth Hall Head of School Jess Hill said. "We are so proud of our talented artists and the countless contributions they have made to the world of fine arts."
Luca, whose work will be part of this year’s AP Art and Design Show and whose work has been showcased alongside several classmates’ in the Frist Art Museum in Nashville, is just one of many Harpeth Hall students who have achieved success in the arts over the last two decades.
Examples of alumnae who benefited from the Patton Visual Arts Center and have pursued a career in the arts include Mary Stengel Bentley ‘03, a professional studio artist whose mural work is showcased in the Bullard Bright IDEA Lab; Kelly Diehl ‘05, an artistic entrepreneur who co-founded the design company New Hat Projects; Whitney Hayden Sanders ‘06, a graphic artist and the creative director at Robin Easter Design in Knoxville; calligrapher Kate Jacques Fabling ‘07; Ryllis Lyle ‘09, who works as a content designer for PayPal/Honey in Los Angeles; and muralist Tess Erlenborn Davies '10.
For each student past and present, Harpeth Hall’s faculty is unmatched in igniting the vision and artistic expression of student artists throughout the decades.
“Patton is home to a great team of teachers,” arts department chair Susie Elder said. “We’re all visual artists ourselves, and we just love supporting the Harpeth Hall students and the incredible talent that’s been coming through Patton for the past 20 years. We are just so excited for that talent to continue to grow.”
The exceptional work continues to flourish as students create art that is both beautiful and meaningful — just like the building itself.
'Magical moments' in Patton Visual Arts Center
“When you are blessed to work in a beautiful building like the Patton Visual Arts Center, magical moments become the norm,” Harpeth Hall media arts teacher Joe Croker said. “Honestly, they come at us so often that we run the risk of taking excellence for granted.”
Each day, Mr. Croker said, the winding staircase designed by Mrs. Patton and architect Baird Dixon “becomes a river of happy hellos” as faculty and students pass each other on the way to class. The gray railing itself is so smooth, Mr. Croker added, that it smooths out the day — “a little gift on the tributary of work-life.” Equally important, the space offers incomparable natural reverb.
“I can’t tell you how many spontaneous musical performances — on piano, guitar, violin, ukulele — have sprung up there,” Mr. Croker said. “Singers love the space.”
And, he added, “in every gallery and every hallway, visitors and passers-through are surrounded by beautiful student artwork — what could be purer than that?”
Photography teacher Carolyn Fraser is drawn to two spaces in Patton. One is obvious: the professional darkroom — a rarity in high schools, and a studio, in terms of space and equipment, that competes with the majority of college darkrooms in the area.
Her other favorite place is a little more obscure - the lighting studio — but not for the reason one may think.
“When all the lights are turned off and the shades are drawn, you will notice there is a little hole cut into one of the shades that lets light in,” she said. “If you sit down on the couch and let your eyes adjust, the outside world appears upside down on the walls in front of you. You'll see cars in the parking lot, the soccer field lights, and, if you are lucky, (maintenance crew) Mike, Shane, Jake, Patrick, or Andrew will wiz by on a golf cart.
“The lighting studio doubles as a camera obscura. My favorite day of Photo I is when I take students in there and they ‘Oooooo’ and ‘Ahhhhh’ over the simplicity and magic of optics.”
In so many ways, the Patton Visual Arts Center is absolutely magical.
“The center, which is a piece of art itself, has inspired thousands of girls to explore their creative talents,” Head of School Jess Hill said. “It has provided a truly transformative arts experience for our students and our faculty.”
An artistic tradition
The masterpieces are many and the mediums varied.
This year’s “Hallmarks,” the upper school literary magazine, will be dedicated to 20 years of excellence in the arts with gratitude for the Patton Visual Arts Center. The publication, which features student-produced art and writing and is produced in the media arts room in Patton, has been named “Best Literary Magazine” in the state by the Tennessee Press Association for 16 years since 2005.
In addition, to a record 40 students receiving 2023 Tennessee Scholastic Art Awards, two of those art students earned honors on the national level this spring. Senior Adelaide Cook was recognized as one of the best young artists in the country, earning a national gold medal - the highest honor in the competition — for her piece “Morning Laundry.” Scholastic also awarded 9th grade student Suki Junge with a national silver medal for her piece “1/8 hours.”
As Harpeth Hall celebrates the Patton Visual Arts Center's 20th anniversary, the school looks forward to continuing its tradition of excellence in the arts and nurturing the next generation of creative minds.
“It is my hope that students will be able to pursue their art careers in vast art students, and in return, I hope these spaces will inspire them to create greater and more beautiful things. Or, if there are girls who feel they do not possess artistic talents, I hope this visual arts center might inspire them to give art a try.” — Robin Ingram Patton ‘84