LISTENING POST: Tom Patterson memoir captures ‘golden era’ of Atlanta
‘Cultural Adventures of a Fledgling Scribe’ exhibit and reading at 378
By now most readers will be aware of the return of book banning and burning to the national headlines. From Texas and Missouri to McMinn County, Tennessee, and Forsyth County, Georgia, grandstanding arch-conservative Christianist legislators, like-minded local school boards and evangelical whackos are hellbent on keeping certain books out of the hands of their younguns, lest their insufficiently indoctrinated minds become tainted by unholy knowledge — and screw the U.S. Constitution or anything else that dares thwart their sanctimonious crusade.
To mark the occasion, Listening Post draws attention to a book loaded with local content, in the hope that it, too, will be banned for some reason, somewhere, by some imbecile, thereby ensuring a spike in sales.
During his seven-decade stint on planet Earth, legendary Atlanta musician Bruce Hampton touched many lives in remarkable ways. One such life belongs to Tom Patterson, whose memoir, The Tom Patterson Years: Cultural Adventures of a Fledgling Scribe, was inspired by a comment made by Hampton during a dinner party in the late 1970s.
Today, Patterson is a renowned arts writer, curator and expert on vernacular art. He’s the author of Howard Finster: Stranger from Another World (Abbeville Press, 1989), St. EOM in The Land of Pasaquan (Jargon Society, 1987/University of Georgia Press, 2018) and Contemporary Folk Art: Treasures from the Smithsonian American Art Museum (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 2001). Patterson has contributed feature articles, critical essays and reviews to American Ceramics, American Craft, Aperture, ARTnews, Art Papers, BOMB, Folk Art, New Art Examiner, Public Art Review, and Raw Vision, the London-based international journal of outsider art of which he is a former U.S. editor.
In 1977, Patterson found himself unemployed and itching to escape the stifling confines of Dublin, Georgia, his hometown. The path of least resistance led to Atlanta. “I arrived in the city in my rattletrap Karmann Ghia — a greenhorn writer looking to make something happen,” he recounts in the first installment of a planned trilogy of books published by H’d’ng Press.
It didn’t take long for Patterson to immerse himself in Atlanta’s roiling cultural milieu in which things were moving along a progressive, subversive trajectory, guided by hard lessons learned during the Sixties and Seventies and soon-to-be galvanized by Ronald Reagan’s victory over Jimmy Carter in the 1980 Presidential election. Months before, when Patterson was visiting Pasaquan, the phantasmagorical seven-acre art environment near Buena Vista created by Eddie Owens Martin, the self-taught artist known as St. EOM foretold the Republican triumph. “Reagan has just what this country wants,” he remarked to the author of his biography. “A good head o’ hair and a mean line o’ talk."
Such anecdotes abound in Patterson’s memoir. For Atlantans of a certain vintage, the “Tom Patterson years” (1977 to 1984) mark a golden era when Midtown was developing into a bona fide, southern fried bohemian enclave in the heart of the region’s most prosperous and enlightened city. Patterson’s residences during this period, on St. Charles Avenue and, later, 13th Street, were ideally located within either walking distance or a short drive to the Woodruff Center, High Museum of Art and Atlanta College of Art; hip bars and restaurants, such as the Stein Club, Cha-Gio and the Majestic; music venues including 688, TV Dinner, and the Agora Ballroom where Patterson saw The B-52’s, R.E.M., Now Explosion, RuPaul, and Swimming Pool Qs; and arts-oriented enterprises including Nexus Press, IMAGE Film and Video Center and Art Papers to which Patterson contributed gallery exhibition and installation reviews, feature stories and profiles.
Naturally, Patterson cavorted with movers and shakers in the field, artists, writers and poets, such as Bob Tauber, Mark Smith, Stan Sharshall, Charles “Chip” Wrenn, Fred Brown (publisher/editor of Brown’s Guide), Jonathan Williams (founder of The Jargon Society), and Laura Lieberman and Dan Talley (co-founders of Art Papers). He briefly worked for Judith Alexander whose Buckhead art gallery was among the first in America to showcase vernacular artists, in particular Nellie Mae Rowe.
First-hand encounters with such accomplished and eccentric folks, woven together with Patterson’s personal story, make for an engaging, informative, 200-page read.
Prompted by the publication of The Tom Patterson Years: Cultural Adventures of a Fledgling Scribe, 378 is presenting “New Lamps for Old,” an invitational art exhibition overseen by the memoir’s author. The exhibition features work by artists who were active in Atlanta during the “Patterson Years” (1977-1984). The list includes Linda Armstrong, William Brown, Scott Gilliam, Billy Howard, Paul Kayhart, David Lee, Elizabeth Lide, Katherine Mitchell, Cornel Rubino, Mark Smith and Dan Talley, as well as works by two deceased artists, Roger Dorset and Stan Sharshal.
“This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive overview of art in Atlanta circa 1980,” Patterson notes. “These are simply some of the artists I knew personally and whose work I have followed with interest. It’s an invitational, not a curated show. I left it up to the artists to choose the works they will be exhibiting.”
Patterson, who now resides in North Carolina, will attend the opening reception of “New Lamps for Old” on Friday, March 4, from 6-9 p.m. at the gallery in Candler Park, behind Flying Biscuit Cafe. On Saturday, March 19, 4-6 p.m., Patterson returns to 378 for a book signing event, which will include a reading by the author beginning around 4:30 p.m. —CL—
The Tom Patterson Years: Cultural Adventures of a Fledgling Scribe, Tom Patterson (2021, H’d’ng Press)
Free. Opening reception Friday, March 4, 6-9 p.m., with the author in attendance. Reading and book signing Saturday, March 19, 4-6 p.m. 378 Gallery. 378 Clifton Road, Atlanta, 30307. For more information, including gallery hours: 404-530-9277 or firstname.lastname@example.org