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In Memory of Virgie Ezelle Patton

Virgie Ezelle Patton
Excellence. That’s a perfect word to describe Virgie Ezelle Patton's vision for her artwork. Excellence.

Virgie Ezelle Patton was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, where she discovered a love of art at a young age. When she was only five years old, her school art teacher noticed that her art abilities were beyond those of other children her age, and her mother began encouraging her creative abilities. From that point on and through high school, Patton was in love with creating. She was always chosen to participate in school-wide art projects and contests. And she always won.

Not long after finishing high school, Patton got married and started a family. She had 6 children in total. Even with the many duties of being a mother and wife, Patton always found time to create art. She said that “Even when the children were young, I'd send them off to school, paint all day, and at night, I'd do my household duties so that I could paint the next day.” Virgie raised a large family along with Cleve W. Patton, her husband (of 58 years), held down employment in arts education, illustration, printmaking, design, and stained glass. She remained defiant about pursuing her passions in painting, drawing, watercolor, and sculpture. She found employment as an artist working in commercial art studios and at American Greetings card company in the finished art department and engaged in studio classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA) and Karamu House. The classes offered her an essential element in her work, access to models. Many artists are familiar with this challenge as an individual working alone. In looking at her work, even in her more abstract pieces, you can see her passion for illustrating the life and challenges all women face.

As an African American woman born in the late 1920’s, Patton had both her race and gender working against her as an artist, but she persevered. She was often the only African American in her classes at the Cleveland Institute of Art (CIA). Her tenacity served her well. She chose not to be hindered by her skin color and the challenges presented, and she continued to work hard toward achieving her artistic vision.

Though Patton worked on art throughout her entire life, it wasn’t until later in her life that she started to get the recognition she deserved. In 2013, she was awarded a $20,000 Creative Workforce Fellowship. The award was made possible by her neighbors, Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture and the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture. Leading up and in addition to this honor, Patton won many awards throughout her lifetime. Her work has been seen in many exhibits, including the Akron Museum of Art, Center for Contemporary Art (now MOCA), Cleveland State University, the Beck Center, Mather Gallery at Case Western Reserve University and at the prestigious William Busta Gallery, among other venues.

Sadly, Ms. Virgie Ezelle Patton's life ended recently. Though she is no longer with us, she left behind many great insights into our world through her artwork. We appreciate and remember her through these gifts. She remains an inspiration to us all because of her courage and incredible passion. “I had just sheer determination and desire--if you want to do something bad enough you'll find a way to do it. That was my philosophy. No one could keep me from painting.”