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A Beautiful Blend of Art and Nature

Debbie Pattillo is making a change in her life, not a total change, but no doubt a significant change. She is moving from artist in residence in a teaching environment to artist in business. The move comes after teaching art for 20 years.

Although Pattillo is making a career adjustment, there was never any doubt that art would always be the heartbeat of her career. It was a choice she made early in life. After all, three important people nurtured and encouraged her love of art and nature: her father and her grandparents.

That encouragement came during weekend visits to her grandparents’ Virginia farm. Pattillo’s parents and grandparents hailed from the James River region of rural Virginia. However, early in her life, her family moved from that placid, rural setting to northern and more urban Virginia where her father worked as an engineer for the federal government.

During visits to the farm, which she referred to as “a retreat from the Washington, D.C., suburbs,” Pattillo’s father took the family on outings into the surrounding countryside. Her father loved to paint and write poetry, and he taught his children to appreciate and respect nature. “He taught us to respect the wildflowers without touching them.” Debbie Pattillo learned to merge the beauty of nature and her art.

Today, Pattillo’s studio reflects what her father instilled in her. Watercolor paintings of flowers and nature in general are scattered throughout her studio, located in the historic Mill House on North Cool Spring Street where she subleases the top floor from fellow artist Greg Hathaway.

After earning an art degree from Longwood University in south central Virginia, Pattillo started her career teaching art in the Virginia public school system, thanks to the influences of yet another family member: an aunt who also taught art. Pattillo taught middle school students to see, to think about, and to appreciate their surroundings. Her husband, now a retired lieutenant colonel, eventually brought her to Fort Bragg and Fayetteville, where the family made its home.

Her ability “to see and appreciate” allowed her to ignore people’s negative descriptions of Fayetteville, and instead, she made her own decisions about her family’s new home.

“There is beauty everywhere if you look for it,” she said. She would venture out during weekends with her husband and son to discover what Fayetteville and the surrounding area had to offer. She found inspirational places like the Botanical Garden, Seagrove and various other sites, and she told other people about them. “Here in Fayetteville, there are things that make it unique.”

Her love of nature extends beyond the canvas. She volunteers as master gardener at the Botanical Garden and serves on its executive board. In short, Debbie Pattillo totally embraced Fayetteville and all it had to offer.

Once the family had settled in Fayetteville, Pattillo shared her artistic gift with children at Village Christian Academy. She also has volunteered in the Cumberland County public schools as part of the MUSE program. That’s how she met Greg Hathaway.

All children are born with a certain amount of creativity, which at times is subdued by adults, Pattillo said. “Teachers are charged with bringing that gift back,” she said. Although she left the classroom setting, Pattillo has private students to “energize me when I spark their creativity.”

Changing from art teacher to art businesswoman will take some adjustment. “I just got my business license. My husband will manage the business part and I will focus on the art,” she said. Her background in commercial art has prepared her for commission work; however, she insists that any piece she creates for someone will maintain her artistic standards, and – she believes – her artistic standards will in turn attract a client with specific tastes.

Pattillo spends most days in her studio where watercolor paintings, pencil sketches, ceramics, contemporary pottery and woven pieces take up every square inch of space. Her watercolor pieces often take months to finish because of the numerous layers of colors involved, a process she refers to as glazing. In fact, the space the studio provides is an integral part of her art production because it allows her to move from genre to genre, from two-dimensional watercolor to three-dimensional ceramics and raku pottery. The studio contains a loom since weaving is also one of her fortes. Pattillo says it is important for her to be able to move among the various art forms. “I like moving from two-dimensional to three-dimensional,” she said.

Currently, three of her watercolor pieces are in limited edition printing after a Raleigh art and interior design firm chose them as part of its offerings. While Pattillo may be focusing on her watercolors, her contemporary raku pottery piece was recently accepted in the Fayetteville Museum of Art, the only piece from a Fayetteville artist.

Pattillo’s art reflects her life. Simply put, it has meaning. Its mission is to preserve Americana: rural farm life, virgin coastlines, and all nature offers. “I want to capture and preserve some of the things that are fading away; that’s where I want to go with my art,” she said.

Her father once took her to a planing mill, where timbers were cut into planks and planed for use in construction. There she saw mules hauling the timber to and from the mill. Today, the start of a watercolor painting of a mule team pulling timber sits among her many painting projects.

Another painting shows a dilapidated tractor in a farm field. The painting signifies the decline of the American family farm. Another is an Emerald Isle seascape, from a photo taken in 1977, before the area was overdeveloped. Pattillo remembers when beach cottages were separated by long distances, rather than mere feet. Pattillo captured the unfettered beach splendidly.