Mike Lions, who owns the Lion’s Share Gallery in downtown Fairhope, likes to joking, “When you move to Fairhope, you have to buy a picture of Joe Patton.” Her work, which is sold exclusively in his gallery, is so popular that it cannot continue to be exhibited. “You have to hurry to frame it before you can sell it,” he says.
Jo Patton is too modest to brag, but Mike is happy to do so. “She is our staple,” he says. “She is part of our complete identity. She is a queen bee.”
Born in Birmingham, Joe took an art class from a “great teacher” in high school and loved it. Her family moved to Fairhope in 1956 when her father got a job at Mobile. Joe began earning her bachelor’s degree in art from Auburn University, but she then fell in love with her and got married.
“I will pee after I get married,” she says modestly about her work habits.
She and her husband, Bill, moved to Fairhope and lived in an old house on Fig Street in the quaint fruit and nuts district. They raised four children in a scenic Bayviewer Venue house on a cliff overlooking Mobile Bay.
“There was a small kitchen with a bar area in the bay view,” she recalls. “The moment they went to school, I pulled out the paint and painted it until noon. I had the paint ready as soon as I had lunch. I kept it as separate as possible.”
By the time her children grew up, she was ready to dive into her passion for painting. “When the last two went south, I went with them,” she says. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Alabama and studied “whatever the Faculty of Arts can do” such as printmaking, pottery, and art history.
For many years she was taking classes at the Eastern Shore Art Center. She started teaching there, and “gradually it became my job,” she says.
Joe is best known for his paintings of the piers on the shores of Mobile Bay. This is perceived by her style and the rich, sometimes unexpected colors she uses. “Pier fascinates me,” she says. “The old pier leaned around and was very unique.”
Every time a tropical cyclone or hurricane occurs, the piers are lost and eventually replaced. “It’s interesting to me that we continue,” she says. “The storm blows them away and we put them back. There is no end.”
She is a member of the Alabama Watercolor Society and the Southern Watercolor Society. “I love how paint mixes with water,” she says of her medium.
She also uses acrylic, which is “a little tough in many ways,” she says. “They dry very quickly and are more difficult to move.” She also touched on mixed media. “I do what I want to do now,” she says.
Accompanied by her “assistant”, two fluffy white dogs named Winny and Lulu, Joe paints daily in her studio hidden behind a screen at one end of her open kitchen. I will try to draw.
“One day you don’t want to paint,” she admits. “But in order for that part of the brain to continue to function, we need to maintain it, whether or not we should live.”
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She was stunned when Vicky Cook, president of the 2022 Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival, realized that Joe Patton wasn’t the featured artist at the event. “I looked up all the years of the festival’s artwork, and I didn’t see Joe’s name there,” she says. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Vicky wanted “Fairhope’s leading artists” to create the artwork for the year of Platinum Jubilee, the oldest festival in the country. “The painting sets the tone of the show. If anyone knew how to represent Fairhope for over 70 years, I felt it would be Joe. It was easy.”
Joe enthusiastically embraced the challenge of creating pictures for promotional posters, T-shirts, and notebook cards sold in merchandise tents near watches on Section Street and Fairhope Avenue. The festival was canceled in 2020, a week before it was scheduled to start. Last year’s event was a reduced version focused on 90 Alabama artists.
This year’s festival will consist of 236 booths in downtown Fairhope from March 18th to 20th.
Joe’s painting “Building Memories” depicts a calm bay with a pier studded behind a sand castle built on the beach by mothers and children. Made with acrylic paint, the color palette and play of sunlight and shadows are clearly Jo Patton’s style. This painting is intended to “stimulate wonderful memories,” she says. “It still does it for me.”