Visual artist Patricia Johnston holds a unique Arts Umbrella record: she’s donated to 33 consecutive Splash auctions.
“I remember when I first met [Arts Umbrella founders] Carol and Gloria,” she says. “They were so passionate – it was wonderful.”
The idea of a school where young people could be inspired by the arts struck a personal chord with Patricia, who donates artwork to Splash – including this serene piece, Zen Ocean #5, in 2016 – because she wants children to have opportunities she didn’t.
“I wish I had been able to go to an art school when I was younger,” she says, “so that’s why [I gave] when I had the opportunity to give.”
“It is the early gifts that people give you, of what they’ve learned,” says the painter, who was born in England but moved as a young girl to Zimbabwe. “I didn’t know there was such a thing as an artist, but I knew that I liked to draw and I couldn’t stop. I was always happy if I had pencil and paper.”
Though she didn’t attend a school like Arts Umbrella, the artist did experience small amounts of training as a child, and she remembers those vividly.
“My first art lessons were around a dining room table, in a small flat, with some ex-pats. The woman who was teaching had come out of Europe either before or after WWII. That was when I learned that there was an actual skill to be learned.”
Recalling another encounter, she also absorbed teachings from a woman sitting outside on her veranda, painting on cloth.
“I didn’t equate is with painting on canvas,” she says, it was rather, “learning little bits by people passing on the little bits. Gradually your skills build. I’m sure this is way that it went on for generations.”
Throughout her life and career, Patricia has continued that quiet legacy of sharing the arts with young people. Besides her incredible support of Arts Umbrella and the young people it serves, she has also mentored emerging artists and taught through Emily Carr University of Art + Design’s outreach programs.
“There isn’t a community in British Columbia that I haven’t flown into in the wintertime,” she jokes, though northern BC’s “brutal” wintertime temperatures of minus 36 C were no laughing matter.
Over many decades Patricia has been such a strong supporter of arts education in the province, both by giving her time and her talents. But the philosophy is beautifully simple: “Pass on what you’ve learned and share it.”
“The tiny little bits of training I received – I remember it so well,” she says. And, with a smile that seems to at once transcend time and convey the importance of arts for kids, she adds, “I still remember the names of all these 7 year olds around this dining room table.”