Abbott Pattison

Gazette Article by: Barbara Joyce
Appeared in the Gazette: Spring 1998

What does a sculptor say when people claim that modern works are too difficult to understand?

“It’s hard to explain,” responded Abbott Pattison, world-renowned sculptor and former Winnetka resident. In a recent telephone conversation with Pattison in Italy, he said, “Things are different now than they were in Michelangelo’s time. These days the artist sees things made by Mayans, Egyptians, Eskimos, and Hindus—things from all over the earth. Today the panorama is different . . . Now there is an amalgam of viewpoints . . . It’s not just more complicated for the viewer but for the artist.”

Pattison recognizes all sculptors, across the earth and throughout time, as his kin. Moving from classical to abstract and back again, his work reflects this complex relationship. Pattison’s sculptures are in the collections of universities, corporations, and museums including the Whitney Museum in New York, the Israeli State Museum in Jerusalem, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the San Francisco Museum. They can be found in Buckingham Palace in London, the United States Embassy in Venezuela, and private homes in Winnetka.

A Pattison sculpture, The Ascent of Mount Katahdin, stands at the northwest corner of Oak Street and Green Bay Road in Winnetka. It is a seven-foot bronze figure carrying a walking stick, impervious to the constant traffic at the four-way stop. The work was an anonymous donation from a local couple to the village in 1989. Mt. Katahdin “ . . . is a mountain in the middle of Maine that gets the first sunrise in the continental United States,” Pattison ex-plained in an interview in the Winnetka Talk at the time. The piece symbolizes “continuous movement,” he said.

Pattison’s life has been one of continuous movement. He was born in 1916, one of seven children. He attended Francis Parker School in Chicago and went to Yale University, where he received both bachelor of arts and bachelor of fine arts degrees. In 1942 Pattison joined the Navy. Stationed in the Pacific, he commanded a ship of 125 men. After the war he resumed his career as a sculptor. Pattison taught at The Art Institute of Chicago, the North Shore Art League, and the Skowhegan School of Art in Maine. He was sculptor in residence at the University of Georgia, has held numerous one-man exhibitions, and been honored with prestigious awards and prizes.

Pattison lived in Winnetka for 35 years until 1993, when he moved to Maine. He, his wife Mary, and their four children lived at 334 Woodland Avenue. They were members of the Winnetka Congregational Church (Pattison is still a member), where another of his sculptures is displayed. The church acquired the piece as part of its centennial celebration in 1974. Located on the south lawn, the work is entitled, The Great Fisherman. It depicts Jesus standing with outstretched arms; four people are in a boat at his feet.

More than 20 of Pattison’s works are located in and around the Chicago area, including a bas relief on the front wall of the house at 660 Pine Street in Winnetka, and sculptures at New Trier East, St. Mary’s Church in Lake Forest, the Northbrook and Glenview Public Libraries, and the campus of Chicago State University.

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