Margaret Jordan Patterson (1867-1950)

“Margaret Jordan Patterson’s glorious use of color and exquisite sense of design are the cornerstones of the landscapes and floral still lifes she produced during the first half of the 20th century. Whether an oil, watercolor, gouache or woodblock print, in virtually all of her pieces there is something that delights the eye — something only incidentally related to the subject. Maybe it’s some striking harmony between the colors, or some intriguing pattern created by lines and spaces. Usually, it’s both — color and design working together to make fairly ordinary subjects altogether extraordinary.

As they sometimes say of married couples, her paintings and color woodblock prints grew to resemble each other — partly because the former were often studies for the latter, but also because Patterson’s vision was so consistent. In her paintings, Patterson tended to flatten spatial relationships and omit transitional tones. Her shadows — often blue or violet, never a grayish hue — become simple, but significant forms in themselves. In making her prints, Patterson achieve tonal subtleties that would make many painters proud. Amazingly, she also managed to convey the impression of freedom and spontaneity in an art form that’s hard, rigid and demands precision.

Patterson has been best remembered as a pioneer in color woodblock printmaking — when she’s been remembered at all. But her contemporaries admired all of her work. Throughout the 1910s and ’20s — and probably later — she enjoyed regular exhibitions and glowing reviews in her hometown of Boston, where she showed at the Copley Gallery, Doll & Richards, Grace Horne, Boston Art Club and the Guild of Boston Artists. Over the course of her career, she also took part in exhibitions in New York, Philadelphia, Providence, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, London, Florence, Rome, Stockholm and Paris.

Her works kept good company. In 1924 and ’25, she participated in the 35th and 36th exhibitions of the Boston Society of Water Color Painters at Boston Art Club, along with such artists as Charles Curtis Allen, Frank W. Benson, Louis Kronberg, Charles Hovey Pepper, Harry Spiers, John Whorf and Charles Woodbury. In 1933, she took part in the American Color Prints exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. It was a large show, bringing together etchings, woodcuts and lithographs by 78 well-known artists, including John Taylor Arms, Gustave Baumann, Arthur B. Davies, Ada Gilmore, Rockwell Kent, Karl Knaths, Blanche Lazzell, Tod Lindenmuth, Abraham Walkowitz and Max Weber.

At the time Patterson died in 1950, her work was in numerous public collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston (where she was one of the first women to be represented), the Smithsonian Institution, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the South Kensington Museum in London and the Museum of Fine Art in Genoa, Italy.” ~ Cindy Nickerson, for the Cahoon Museum of American Art, Cotuit, MA