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Master of the Southwest Artist Patricia Dobson

Author: Roberta Landman
Issue: March, 2012, Page 112
Photos by Christiaan Blok

Patricia Dobson

Artist Patricia Dobson Preserves Native American History and Traditions in Her Lifelike Oil Paintings


Crossing the threshold of artist Patricia Dobson’s Scottsdale home is like entering one of her oil paintings—absolutely fascinating.

Museum-quality pottery, baby-size beaded moccasins and copious other Native American artifacts are displayed respectfully in most every nook and cranny. These collected treasures—a joy for her and husband Bill Fuess to live with, she says—are what inspire her award-winning works of art. She replicates their details in oils on canvas with infinite patience and precision.

It is always a thrill for Dobson to see people trying to get up close to a painting to check if the beads of a moccasin, for example, are the real thing rather than what she created with a brush. Smiling, she comments, “I like to see people put their noses up there.” Then she adds,“I don’t use any gimmicks.” Each tiny colorful bead image is executed with several layers of thin paint. “I’m probably using the smallest brush there is, and doing one bead at a time, at least four times over.” The process, also used for other aspects of her work, “gives depth, and you get a translucency.”

To thoroughly understand what she paints, Dobson—whose great-grandmother was Iroquois—taught herself how to work with her collection of antique glass beads. As a result, she has been called upon from time to time to restore beadwork on deer-hide moccasins. An avid researcher of her American Indian subject matter, she is docent-like as she shares interesting bits of history.

Artist Patricia Dobson poses with a circa 1920 pot from the Zia Pueblo in New Mexico. On the easel is her painted representation of the jar, ears of Indian corn and an Indian blanket. The painting, which measures 30"-square, is titled The Zia.
“The beads the Indians used came from Venice, Italy. Columbus brought them over, and the Hudson’s Bay Company brought them in by the boatloads.” Before the beads came, Native Americans were already making beautiful decorative designs on clothing and crafting jewelry using porcupine quills and shells, she tutors. She learned how to use the quills “from a Sioux gal,” she notes, and has done so—carefully—in jewelry she has made for herself. Moccasins she has painted at times have realistic-looking quill adornment, executed solely with a brush, paint and fool-the-eye exactness.

Researching Native American tribes and their beautiful and mostly utilitarian items, and then capturing them on canvas, never fails to excite her. She has been given access to museum collections, permitted to photograph their pots and other historic items, and paints them back in her home studio.

Raised near Sacramento, California, Dobson has drawn and painted since childhood, and was an art major in college for a time. Later, during a rigorous career as a cardiology technician, and while raising two sons, she painted realistic renderings of people, landscapes and some Native American subjects and entered them in shows. In 1975, she decided to become a full-time artist. “I already had a pretty good following built up,” she says, but notes it was, nonetheless, a major turning point in her life. She began concentrating on American Indian subjects after someone requested a painting of a Pueblo Indian. She decided to research the tribe and its pottery—it was the beginning of many years of traveling to the locales of a variety of Indian tribes.

For the composition of this 19"H x 12"W painting, titled Baby Quills and Beads, Dobson set Sioux baby moccasins from the late 1880s upon an old Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket. The real moccasins are decorated with blue-toned glass beads and porcupine quills colored with what might have been red buffalo berry dye.
Dobson’s list of awards is long. Her works are in numerous private collections and have been in several museum and invitational shows, including Desert Caballeros Museum in Wickenburg, Arizona;  National Cowgirl Museum in Fort Worth, Texas; Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma; Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.; and Prix de West Invitational Art Exhibition in Oklahoma City.

Acknowledgment of her work comes from many quarters and is especially rewarding when it is from the Native Americans she admires and greatly respects. “I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from them. It may be as quiet as a gentle nod, which I love.”

Of her career, she reflects: “I am so blessed to be able to do what I love doing. Artists never have to retire. There’s no expiration date. You can work until you drop.”

Left: In this 48"H x 36"W painting, The Headsmen’s Lodge, Patricia Dobson portrays 1860s Cheyenne war artifacts. The backdrop is an elk robe emblazoned with pictographs—painted scenes “of daring horse raids,” the artist says. Right: Dobson’s Zuni Through Time, 36"H x 30"W, showcases a late 1800s Zuni jar, which she placed upon a woman’s head in her wall-hung version of an antique Edward S. Curtis photograph.

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