This Mother’s Day, CoCA brings you an incredibly inspiring conversation with Patti Curtis Hair. Patti is an artist, mother, and now art gallery owner of Fogue Studios, which is an art collective for creatives over the age of 50. She is also featured in CoCA’s current member’s show, Creativity Persists. In this conversation, Patti dives deep into her beginnings as an artist, her unexpected pregnancy, and the wild, crooked path that led her to found Fogue Studios. Read on for an honest conversation about tenacity, new beginnings, and the beauty of motherhood.
Where did your artistic journey begin?
When I was in college, I was going to Cornish, and it was the happiest time of my life. I was thriving, and I won best artist my first year there, in 1991, and the winner got to be in CoCA. And it meant everything to me. It was a really deep, meaningful sculpture for me. I got to be at CoCA, and I got to go to the show. For me, the experience with CoCA, from the very beginning of my art career, and now the new beginning of my art career, is everything. 26 years later, it’s so meaningful. It’s just as important to me today as it was 26 years ago, that they picked my art [for Creativity Persists]. CoCA means everything to me.
In my second year, I met this guy who was a great painter, and I got pregnant. I finished school, which was good, and we had this bohemian lifestyle… We moved into a little rental house and we were poor. We were really poor, because he was an artist, and I was having a baby.
Once my daughter was about two, I just couldn’t be poor. I knew that I needed to create a life for her that wasn’t this life, that wasn’t being broke, and on food stamps, and struggling, and trying to do art. So I put my art on a shelf, and I ended up with three jobs. He never worked, except for painting. But he wasn’t a good marketer, and so we were broke. I was supporting the family, and I just thought, I’m not doing this anymore. So I put all the art stuff on the back burner, and I got a divorce, and I worked really hard, and I moved up in the ranks of the company.
How did you find your way back to art?
One day (it was actually Mother’s Day) I walked by this tattoo place, and I said, “I’m going to get a tattoo.” I got this flower on my foot, because I wanted to be able to look down and to remind myself to never ever compromise or lose my artist’s soul. This flower on my foot represents my soul of being an artist, to never ever forget who you really are. When I would start to forget or to compromise who I am, I just had to look down at that flower. I always knew someday I’d get back to [art]. I just knew. I was never bitter, or mad, or resented my daughter. I cherish her, and there’s no way I’d be the person or be doing any of this if I weren’t her mother and if I didn’t have that experience.
Once my daughter was done with school, I just thought, “I really want to start something just for myself, and in this point in my life after 25 years, I’m gonna be an artist again”. I started creating The Pretty Bones, and I started applying gilding and jewels and cosmetic pigments to bones, to animal skulls. I spent my entire career preying on young women’s insecurities, saying, “you have to wear makeup to be beautiful”. But really the beauty is in the bones on the inside, and we’re all the same and beautiful on the inside.
How do you think your art would be different if your life hadn’t taken a detour?
I think it would be really mediocre. That’s why I love this collective of artists over 50, because the depth of experience that they have. A lot of them already had careers, and they’re coming back to their art.
I certainly would not be opening this gallery. [My daughter] really gave me the drive. What I lacked in self-confidence, I made up in pure determination and tenacity. It comes from my mom. My mom is super strong, she’s been through a lot. She’s always in a good mood, she’s always fun and happy to be with. She just never gives up. She was really the strength of our family. She is really the one that influenced me to never give up and believe in myself. I’m very lucky to have had a mother like that.
How did Fogue come to be?
I am a product developer, designer, and marketer. I was director of product development and design and marketing for a half-billion dollar cosmetic company, but I was always made to feel kind of marginalized; there’s a lot of marginalization that goes on with people over a certain age. I was talking to this 32 year old white guy, and he was like, “I’m an artist, I’d like to talk to you about being in your gallery”. I’m like, “Sorry, you’re not old enough”. He was like, “What do you mean?” and I go, “You have to be over 50 to be part of our collective. He goes, “Don’t you think that’s discriminating?” and I go, “Okay, white guy, I’m pretty sure you can never talk about discrimination”. And he goes, “I like older people, I don’t discriminate”. And I go, “That’s great, that doesn’t mean that discrimination doesn’t happen, because you don’t do it. Ageism is real.”
The millennial term for old people is “fogues”, like “don’t be such a fogue, mom”, like an old fogie. That’s where the name comes from. I’m gonna call it out. I’m not gonna be embarrassed.
From Mother to Daughter
What I am trying to teach my daughter to this day is that the pretty is on the inside. The strength is in your bones. The strength is within you. It’s not how you look. Some of it is how people perceive you, because perception is something. But the true strength is what’s inside, and it’s okay to be fragile and strong.
Also, the strength of your inner child--never lose that. Don’t lose your spirit, don’t lose your spark. That’s the gift that my mom has given me. She’s in her 70’s, but she’s never lost that spark. You just don’t let it go. You keep it lit. There will be times in your life, where you think, “I just can’t do it anymore”, and you can’t get out of bed. But you work through those times, and that’s why it helps to be an artist, or if you’re a runner, or a writer. Just have something that lights your spark again.
I think a lot of people don’t keep anything for themselves, and that was something I made sure I never did. I had a network of other moms, and [my daughter] would go and have sleepovers, and then I would have sleepovers at our house. I always made sure that I kept me. I wasn’t just someone’s mom. You have to separate yourself out, and you have to forgive yourself. You can’t have mom guilt. You have to say, “I am a better mother, because I have a life.”
I was a better mom because I never resent [my daughter] for making my life not what I thought it should be. I appreciated her for the inspiration she gave me to work hard. Once you have a kid, it’s discovering a part of your heart you never knew you had. I just had no idea the overwhelming devotion and dedication and love I would have for another human being. True unconditional love.
CoCA would like to wish all mothers a wonderful Mother’s Day.
You can find Patti Curtis Hair at foguestudios.com, where she is currently accepting applications for membership at Fogue Studios.
Fogue Studios’ opening night will be at Art Attack (the Georgetown Art Walk) on June 9th, from 6-9 pm.