Interview 7: Pat

aged - 93

"“I remember I took my niece to the Metropolitan, I wanted to increase her exposure to culture; she was 8 at the time. I wanted to show her the 17th century Dutch paintings…”

It's the second of my days at Danny, since learning I’ve been granted the Arts Council funding I need and having begun, therefore, as Artist-in-Residence. Today I’ve been sitting sketching in the Great Hall, concentrating my effort on drawing the ruff around the neck of Lady Campion, daughter of Sir William Stone, in the oil painting that hangs just left of the hall's grand fireplace; I’ve been contemplating the practicalities involved in making such a ruff out of paper. It's perhaps my mentioning this to Pat that begins her train of thought as regards her own history. Or perhaps it's the fact that her niece has gone on to become an artist in her own right which lends the memory she's now reporting to me, its particular significance.

I only met Pat for the first time earlier this afternoon. She'd been standing beside Danny’s notice board talking to another resident when I arrived to pin up a notice about the fact that I was starting as A.I.R. She'd explained then, that she only moved in a fortnight ago and so hasn't been around to come to the introductory presentations I've given so far. She and her companion had told me then that their conversation had coincidentally just been concerning art; the Tate gallery specifically. I’d explained my project more fully to them both and Pat had told me, spontaneously, of a period of time in her own life when she’d volunteered at/for the V&A. She'd told me about meeting Zandra Rhodes there and of briefly assisting her. “She was setting up the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, and had come to the V&A to give a talk,” Pat had told me, "she was offering a flat with a curatorship position, I told her that wouldn’t work...and I advised her to set up her museum on the other side of the railways line, or the other side of the river…”

Continuing our conversation as we now are (sitting in the Great hall a few hours later) I begin by asking Pat what her role had been at the V&A and she tells me it had concerned both guiding and providing information at the desk and of how she’d written a guide. “I got on very well with [Dame] Elizabeth Esteve-Coll; she was the first director of a museum of that scale not to have gone to Oxbridge.” 

Our conversation is to focus largely however, on Meghan Boody, Pat’s niece. “As I said I wanted to show her the Dutch paintings, they seemed safe enough to me, of course to get there we had to go through the early Italian gallery where we stopped to look at a nativity, in front of which Meghan proclaimed loudly: “I can’t see baby Jesus, where’s baby Jesus?…Oh there he is!” I was mortified Pat says, though light-heartedly enough. Pat tells me that that day Meghan had been interested primarily in the blood and the apple and the breasts portrayed in that type of large-scale, Biblical, figurative painting. "We went on through the French Impressionists and eventually got to the Dutch works; she wasn’t interested at all in the modern. Of course she’s gone on to make work using a camera and computer; work that seems very modern to me,” Pat says.

It seems, from what Pat says, that age and/or personal preference has seen the division between their artistic preferences continue on into adulthood. She tells me that she once had asked where Henry was in a series of Meghan's works that were called ‘Henry’s wives’. “Don’t you see him…the blow fish…” she was told. “We also saw the Renoir image of a woman and a piano stool and 2 little girls that my father’s partner had once owned,” she concludes before we move on to talk about why she moved first to London. “I’d been living in New York, selling real estate, you don’t call it that here, of course, for 3 years previous,” Pat tells me. It seems her family had made an earlier trip to London and she she’d been brave enough to uproot herself on the basis of a few connections her mother had made whilst over here, plus a few she'd established on her own. She’d wanted straight away to purchase property herself and tells me quite how dismayed she’d been by British estate agents. “They'd seemed to work so differently,” she says. “In America we were proactive, here they were only reactive”. It would take her a year to the day and 24 agents before eventually finding a home in Knightsbridge. In order to get to that point she’d, perhaps naturally enough, ended up at Harrods. “There was a time when the store promised to sell you everything you needed from the cradle to the grave,” she tells me, and that included property. The agent again had seemed pretty unimpressive to her however. “You’ll either like it or not he’d said,” whilst arranging to meet her at the house. “I can be there in 5 minutes,” she’d told him, “but he'd struggled to get there in 15 and so I'd stood waiting. Then he didn’t know if it was leasehold or freehold...Next he took me to a tiny hotel (it was on Basil street I think) to meet the owners and place an offer. As I again stood on the street whilst he went inside the hotel to talk to the concierge a taxi drew up and a man got out (ignoring his wife’s struggles as she unloaded luggage from the boot). She was wearing puffy sleeves, her arms akimbo. This was the couple we were to meet and when we did meet with them inside the agent told them my offer with me in the room, I could see they weren’t keen, I’d told him to up it if necessary but he didn’t, so in the end I did the whole deal myself”. Pat calls the estate agent she’d been dealing with (the head of Harrod’s Town house department) a “dumbchuck”, which of course makes me smile. The house she bought that day had been built in 1851, “the year of the Great Exhibition” she tells me, “when I got the indenture (a legal document/the deed) it had been folded over 9 times, to get it in an envelope…in those days people didn’t worry about preservation…I went, on a recommendation, to a picture framer who had created frames for the National Gallery…he did a wonderful job. I had it hanging up in the lviing room from then on”. Having already established that had Pat worked (after that) in genealogy/research. She tells me that she hadn’t wanted to take a job from a British person and that selling flats in N.Y: “didn’t anyway quality you for anything much over here.” It seems it was through researching the history of her new house that she made her first relevent/professional contacts (which included one of the financial supporter of President Nixon) and developed a freelance career from there.

“I might have worn blue jeans for researching dusty records,” she says “but back then women wouldn’t have worn trousers on the street, not like these days.” As our conversation is drawing to a close I touch again on fashion. “I remember I made a knitted two piece when I was about 9. It cost me 9 dollars and 75 cents to make…for a round needle…no pattern…it took so long to make that I didn’t fit it by the time I’d finished. My mother made me go on and finish it and she kept it, in a chest. Years later Meghan included it in one of her works.” And so, with mention of Meghan, our converstaion seems to come full circle.

Folllow up - At home again I look up Meghan’s website (www. http://meghanboody.com) intrigued to see the work she’s gone on to make as a professional artist; intrigued by the description of some of the works Pat had specifically mentioned; and I find it fascinating to see revealed before me her early developed personal preferences. My own impression of Meghan’s work is of how wonderfully surreal it is, how fantastical and, though challenging, how beautiful. Given that Pat had been inclined to reminisce about their trip to the Metropolitan some 30+ years ago, and that Meghan is now creating works that both hide and reveal great historical figures, as if in a very contemporary take on the large Biblical works she'd seen that day, it seems to me that we ought all to be very conscious of how impactful, powerful and profound inter-generational family day’s can be, on the psyche’s of those involved. "

- Stephanie Smart