On May 12, 1933, a rebellious group of artists and sympathizers gathered at Buffalo’s Grosvenor Library and held their first meeting to create the Patteran Society. Their efforts were fueled by their mutual alliance with the introduction of modernism in art and to offer an alternative to the Buffalo Society of Artists, which was deemed too conservative and exclusionary. The name “Patteran,” suggested by Evelyn Hill Olmsted, came from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The Gipsy Trail” from “Tales of the Romany.” By definition, “a patteran is a pattern made with broken twigs that was used by gypsies to point out a direction not taken before.”
The original trailblazer “architects,” board of directors, and charter members included: Grace Barron, Carl Bredemeier, Ethelyn (Pratt) Cobb, Marion E. Cullen, Mildred C. Green, Ruth Erb Hoffman, Ruth E. Jones, Arthur Kowalski, Evelyn Rumsey Lord, Emily Newman (Recording Secretary), Evelyn Hill Olmsted, Harold LeRoy Olmsted (Chairman or “Skipper”), Ion Paleologue, Louisa W. Robins (Chairman of the Exhibition Committee), William J. Schwanekamp, Anthony J. Sisti, Mrs. Parton Swift (Corresponding Secretary), Cecilia Evans (Peach) Taylor, Virginia Eller Tillou (Corresponding Secretary after Mrs. Parton Swift), Francis B. Valentine, Martha Visser’t Hooft, Irving S. Williams, Ansley Sawyer, Esther Hoyt Sawyer, James J. (Jimmy) Vullo, Edwin Weiss (patron of “local art”), and (David) Urquhart Wilcox. These founders stated:
The main purpose of the Society was "to foster free and independent thought and approach with individual rather than group excellence of the total and that in our choice of membership, the quality and integrity of the candidate’s approach should be considered fully as much as his excellence of accomplishment and having chosen him he would thereupon be allowed, unhampered, to express himself."
Among the Patteran Society’s achievements was to work with Albright Art Gallery director Gordon Washburn to establish the “Annual Exhibition by Artists of Western New York” selected by a jury of three out-of-town professionals and awarding cash prizes. The first was held in 1934. They continued annually (except in 1942 because of WWII) until 1960, after which it held intermittently until 1974, and then biennially alternating with a new series called “In Western New York.
Among the thriving Patteran Society’s later members were artists who are well represented at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, which was founded on December 9, 1966. They include: Niels Yde Andersen, Florence Julia Bach, Robert N. Blair, Harvey Breverman, Charles E. Burchfield, Edwin Dickinson, Virginia Cuthbert and her husband Philip C. Elliott who moved to Buffalo 1941, Walter Garver, Jean V. MacKay (Henrich), Catherine Catanzaro Koenig and her husband James, James K. Y. Kuo, James Pappas, David F. Pratt, Walter A. Prochownik, William B. Rowe, and Roland Wise. The Patteran Society’s last exhibition was held at the then-named Burchfield Art Center in 1980. The Society formally disbanded in 1983 and many of its members donated their historical records and materials to the Burchfield Penney Art Center Archives. With such rich holdings in the collection, the Burchfield Penney presented a selection of works to celebrate the accomplishments of Patteran Society artists, in part to illustrate how their work diverged from their rivals in the Buffalo Society of Artists, such as Alexander O. Levy, whose career has just been lauded in a major retrospective at the museum. Signature works from private collections have also been included.
The exhibition was co-curated by Dr. Albert L. Michaels, professor of history and social studies education, and Nancy Weekly, head of collections and Charles Cary Rumsey Curator. In addition, graduate students in museum studies at SUNY Buffalo State selected 18 artworks and wrote interpretive labels bringing a multi-disciplinary approach to accessibility for both adults and children. Working with Ms. Weekly, who is the Burchfield Penney Instructor of Museum Studies, were Danielle D. Delia, Alyssa M. Frijey, Saliym A. Lanzot, Michelle A. Maroney, Amanda L. Niemi, Christine A. Parker, Deirdre B. Reynolds, Ajah S. Session, and Emily Simms. Undergraduate student Abril De Los Santos assisted with research in compiling a list of Patteran Society members. Their work is accessible online at the Burchfield Penney’s web site, www.burchfieldpenney.org.