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The Octagon

Art teacher Patricia Kelly retiring to pursue art, travel after 13 years of laughter, innovation, inspiration

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Chardonnay Needler
Retired art teacher Patricia Kelly hugs the stuffed bear made for her by junior Jacqueline Chao, senior Ulises Barajas and graduated senior Emory Shi. The three had gone to Build a Bear to make a special present for Kelly before she retired.

After 13 years of expanding Country Day’s visual art programs with her new, colorful ideas, Patricia Kelly is retiring.

Kelly taught middle- and high-school studio art, middle-school ceramics and AP Studio Art. She was also the planner of the seventh-grade Renaissance Faire and of a ceramics studio.

Kelly said it was her idea to expand the ceramics program by garnering support to build a kiln from the former head of maintenance and former headmaster Steve Repsher.

Many students, including Emory Shi, ‘17, would not have had the opportunity to pursue ceramics with teacher Julie Didion if it weren’t for Kelly.

Shi said ceramics instantly became his artistic outlet.

“(Ceramics was) a way for me to express my personality and feelings,” Shi said.

“And the process in which it takes me to make my pieces had many hardships and problems, kind of like life.”

“Grandma Patty,” as her AP Studio Art students called her, had a reputation for never taking herself too seriously.

Isabelle Leavy, ‘17, who took art classes from “PK” (another nickname for Kelly) for over seven years and was the president of the National Art Honors Society (NAHS) club, said Kelly’s sense of fun helped her with the portfolio for AP Studio Art that she submitted this year.

“She helped me not take myself too seriously because she didn’t take things too seriously,” Leavy said.

“She was always ready to laugh at something stupid even when she was really focused on the Ren Faire or AP portfolios.”

Didion also said that Kelly’s humor was intrinsic to her nature.

“She has a delightful laugh and a wicked sense of humor,” Didion said.

Junior Sophie Naylor, first-place winner of the 2017 Youth Art Month (YAM) competition, said she loved Kelly’s idiosyncrasies.

“One funny thing about (Kelly) is her obsession with lint as an art medium,” Naylor said.

“As soon as she told us about using lint (as an art medium), we all cringed. It was a funny quirk we all bugged her about.”

Elinor Hilton, ‘16, now a sophomore majoring in fashion design at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia, also commented on Kelly’s openness to self-deprecation.

“She was like a friend who’d always joke with us and make fun of us, and we’d make fun of her,” Hilton, a student of Kelly’s for seven years, said.

“Sometimes, if she got a little frustrated or if the music was too loud, she’d yell in a Southern accent, and we’d all start laughing.

“She’d laugh too and blame it on the fact that she lived in Texas for 10 years.”

Jacqueline Chao
Art teacher Patricia Kelly shows freshman Jewel Turner how to paint a stamp in the Art Studio elective.

Shi said that even when dispensing advice, Kelly would inject some humor still.

“Her sarcastic answers to my questions always made me laugh,” Shi said.

“She’s really relatable and hella hilarious.”

But her humor isn’t her only legacy.

“Her class (was) one of the fundamental reasons that I started looking at art colleges in general and one of the reasons I decided to go to art school,” Hilton said.

“She supported and encouraged our artistic interests a lot, and a lot of other people weren’t so fond of that because (Country Day)’s such an academic school.

“She was our inspiration.”

Naylor said Kelly was also someone with whom students could discuss muses.

“I always loved coming back from trips and telling her all the new things that inspired me to make new pieces,” Naylor said.

For example, after a trip to Arizona, Naylor talked to Kelly about the cacti there and later painted a cacti piece.

“Having someone (to) support you and bounce ideas off of is always helpful,” Naylor said.

“(Kelly) was always that person I could go to.”

Kelly supported students with their artistic endeavors outside of Country Day as well.

According to Naylor, Kelly helped students find and enter pieces in competitions, shows and contests to publicize their works, such as the YAM competition.  

“Without that I feel we would be stuck creating art but never moving forward and getting it out for the public eye,” Naylor said.

Hilton recounts how Kelly would always remind students about new National Art Honors Society opportunities and other ways they could expand their artistic circle.

According to Leavy and Hilton, Kelly started the school’s involvement in the annual Chalk It Up! Sacramento Festival, during which the sidewalks around Fremont Park in downtown Sacramento are transformed into a mosaic of murals on Labor Day. For over a decade the art department has bought a sidewalk square and made a chalk mural to represent Country Day.

Kelly is a wealth of art knowledge, technique and history
Studio Art teacher Andy Cunningham

In addition to helping students, Kelly left an impression on her colleagues as well.

“(Kelly) is a wealth of art knowledge, technique and history,” studio art teacher Andy Cunningham said.

“She is strong and consistent with her delivery of the information and in her assessment of the work the students produced.”

Didion added that Kelly’s personal attention to the students was admirable.

“She’s a super-helpful person, a super-thoughtful person and very thorough,” Didion said.

“She’d move through the classroom devoting serious thought toward each student’s piece. She was patient and helped each student, considering each person to be individual and unique, and respected all of their work.”

Now that Kelly isn’t helping students with portfolios, organizing next year’s Chalk It Up! or prepping for the Renaissance Faire, she hopes to relax and “rediscover” herself.

Jacqueline Chao
Retired art teacher Patricia Kelly

Last week, to kick off her retirement, Kelly and her husband, Craig, started on a trip to the coast, where they will visit her family’s oceanside house in Humboldt County, California.

“The ocean always cleanses my soul,” Kelly said. “It is important for me to go there first.”

And next month she will attend the wedding of her youngest son, Vincent, in Foresthill, California.

In the future she hopes to travel up the northwestern coast all the way to the totem poles in Alaska.

She plans to go through Ashland, Oregon, on the way there to see plays at the Shakespeare festival. And Portland, Oregon, will be another pit stop so she can enjoy the scenery.

But where she cannot wait to travel to is a bit closer to home.

“My backyard, my veggie garden, is truly a favorite travel destination,” Kelly said.

“(It’s) one I want to visit time and time again to meditate and share laughter with my grandkids while they hunt for lizards, dig for potatoes and pick pomegranates.”

She said she aims to continue her art, sketch, do watercolors, meditate and exercise – outside and inside her home studio in Rocklin.

“My plan is to schedule days and times where I am only in my studio,” Kelly said.

“This will take discipline. It won’t be easy. I will be doing a lot of searching, observing and sketching to develop ideas and share ideas with other artists I know.”

Kelly said she wants to experiment, especially with some of her backburner collage ideas.

“I have kept and saved lots of old papers I want to use, like photos of sumo wrestlers, my notes and torn pages from books for a collage,” she said.

“While museums and galleries are on my list for inspiration, the world has much to offer.”

—By Chardonnay Needler

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