An homage to the land

Gilroy native’s artwork now on display at Center for the Arts

Steven Pattie examines "Eight Trees," now on display at the Gilroy Center for the Arts. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

During the mid-19th century, commercial logging operations devastated redwood forests across the state. Mount Madonna was no exception.

The local Amah Tribal band of the Costanoan Ohlone Nation, stewards of the land for thousands of years, had been uprooted from their home and sent by colonizers to various missions in the area three-quarters of a century earlier. The forests were now open for business, their wood needed for the growing West.

One hundred and fifty years later, the trees felled by loggers have risen again.

Gilroy artist Steven Pattie is showcasing his works in a solo exhibition called “Living in Still Motion: The Art of Steven Pattie” at the Gilroy Center for the Arts.

Standing tall in the center of the exhibit is “Eight Trees,” eight wooden posts positioned in a circle, all of which were created from those historic trees. All the posts in “Eight Trees” show the scars of time and abuse they have taken since they were harvested.

“Their nicks, chips, burns, bruises, scars, dents and other forms of attrition are a testament to their respective histories of use on their journeys since,” Pattie wrote in his description of the installation. “These serve as an homage to the forest that was Mount Madonna, each a witness to these original woods, each with its own story since standing sentry as posts on their own independent journeys on various South County ranches and farms since being felled. They also serve as an homage to the original peoples who had protected them.

“Like the people, here they stand again.”

Pattie, standing in the center of “Eight Trees” before the exhibit opened to the public, said this show marks the first time the posts, which he collected over the years, have been displayed in such a manner.

“These fossil-like timbers are each extraordinary relics from a primeval forest, are each a survivor and a witness to how life moves on,” he said. “There is beauty in their survival.”

Finding inspiration

Pattie, a Gilroy native, has had a diverse career. He worked in fundraising and business development, advertising and marketing, educational administration and cultural arts management. This is all in addition to his artistic pursuits as a writer, poet, visual artist, musician, art collector and documentary film producer. 

Pattie’s family moved to Redwood Retreat Road in Gilroy in 1966, and Pattie graduated from Gilroy High School in 1970. He spent most of the next four decades living and working in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Pleasanton.

After his wife passed away five years ago, Pattie returned to Pattie Farm on Redwood Retreat Road to care for his elderly mother.

Pattie said his family is currently building a small cidery on the 10-acre property. While the cidery is not yet commercial, Pattie and his youngest son Lucas Ohio are making fermented ciders from apples, pears and honey, already garnering a number of awards in state, national and international competitions.

It is here where Pattie creates his work.

“I get inspiration from this place, and I very intentionally root my art here,” he said.

Pattie visualizes Pattie Farm, which he describes as being “in the shadow of Mount Madonna,” as a place that tells the story of the people who inhabited the land for more than 4,000 years.

“This small ‘Ohlone gallery’ I envision will feature Amah Mutsun artifacts found on the land, and select items representative of the Ohlone peoples of the Bay Area I’ve been collecting,” he said.

The gallery is a work in progress; Pattie has created small environments on the property, which “may or may not include buildings, places where the heart can linger, where thoughts can marinate,” he said. “It’s about creating a place and using old materials/architectural salvage that introduce a spirituality, history and the nuance of time.”

Pattie, whose works have been featured in several national and international venues, said he recently became interested in Asian calligraphy and one-stroke painting. He is currently a student of calligraphy expert Kazuaki Tanahashi, and his recent art has been done in the spirit of the Zen meditation practice.

“It is done in broad and sweeping brush strokes, where my vision is committed directly to paper with a minimum of deliberation or contemplation,” he said.

Pattie is also a collector of American folk art, with the works often being featured at museums.

A personal, unique show

The Gilroy Center for the Arts, 7341 Monterey St., typically puts up eight to 10 exhibits a year, according to executive director Kevin Heath. It’s rare for the center, which launched in 2010, to have an exhibit dedicated to a single artist, he added.

“We try to raise the bar with each new exhibit,” Heath said. “This is the most unique exhibit we have ever had.”

Work in the exhibit includes collaborations with local craftsmen Nathan Van Bergen and Dale Lockman.

“This is a very personal show,” Pattie said. “During most of my career of making art, my focus has been as a painter and writer. This show is a little different. I’ve taken on new and creative challenges, including the use of found and discarded materials, and working with metal and wood.”

“Living in Still Motion: The Art of Steven Pattie” runs through Oct. 5. A reception will be held Aug. 17, 6:30-9:30pm.

For information, visit gilroycenterforthearts.com.