I grew up in Chicago in the 1950’s in an artist’s household, my father being a bronze and marble sculptor whose work is known mainly in Chicago and New York. Twice a month my father taught sculpture and painting at The Art Institute of Chicago, and he would leave me with a curator he knew in The Field Museum of Natural History. I soon knew everyone who worked in the museum displays, and I was allowed to wander alone anywhere that interested me, including those back rooms where the exhibits were repaired and assembled. I came to know the man that stuffed most of the birds in the collection, as well as the taxidermist and also the model makers who created the early hominid display and the exhibits of American Indians.

I observed that large-scale dioramas used real rocks, plants and shells in the foregrounds, but the backgrounds were well-painted illusions of space. I have always been drawn to that boundary between real space and illusion. At that point in my life, I decided that my life’s work would be painting the illusionary backgrounds of museum dioramas. Despite the fact that I do not work on dioramas, I have not deviated much from my goal fifty years later.

My father believed that one of his children would become an artist, and I seemed to take to art very early. We spent every summer on the coast of Maine where my grandfather had purchased a property on Penobscot Bay in 1923. My parents gave me my first pony when I was five. My father carved bows and arrows for me and made bonnets from the feathers I collected, and my mother sewed fringes on my clothes. No one told me that people no longer used these weapons or lived in the Old Way. Today when I am working on a large landscape or painting the clothing of a Plains Indian, I think of The Field Museum where I studied carefully the details of the displays and slowly gained the ability to know what tools and clothing were authentic to each tribe.

Older, I became interested in the art in The Art Institute of Chicago and studied those paintings that caught my attention. Since I saw these paintings on my own, I didn’t know then that the art works that I considered to be the best were the paintings by Rembrandt, Velasquez, Van Gogh, Matisse and Gauguin. I continue to feel a deep affinity with many of the 17th Century masters and the Impressionist painters, and know them better than I do contemporary painters.

It seems only right to me that, as an artist, I should spend a lifetime trying to make paintings that could hold their own in power and strength when measured against the great artists that I admire. It might take a lifetime for an artist to gain the ability and vision to create a masterpiece. If someday I were able to do that, I would consider that my time here had been well-spent. My father said that an artist only retires at the grave.

Harry Pattison was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1952. He attended Rockford College in Rockford, Illinois, The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and The Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine.