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clyfford still | museum
Portrait of Clyfford Still's wife Patricia
Image: Clyfford Still, PH-134 (Portrait of Pat), 1942.
Oil on canvas, 37 1/2 x 24 inches (95 1/4 x 61 cm).
Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, CO.
© City and County of Denver / ARS, NY.

Patricia Garske Still (1920 – 2005)

by Kristin Kirsch Feldkamp

Before Women’s History Month comes to a close, we felt it important to shine a spotlight on Clyfford Still’s second wife, Patricia (Pati) Alice Garske Still. Pati was a driving force in preserving Still’s legacy both during his lifetime and after. Without her intense dedication and astute organizational skills, today’s Clyfford Still Museum would not exist and Still’s critical role as an American master of the twentieth century would be far more obscure.

Image: Photo of the Stills at their Church St. home in New Windsor, Maryland. Photo: Sandra Still, courtesy of the Clyfford Still Archives.

Born in Ione, Washington in 1920 and raised in Idaho, Pati met Still while studying at Washington State University in Pullman where he was an instructor.[1] She was a promising student who studied towards a fine art degree and followed Still to San Francisco where he taught at the California School of Fine Arts (now San Francisco Art Institute). While there, Pati ran the CSFA bookstore and continued to pursue her own artistic aspirations. When Still resigned in 1950, the two moved to New York where Pati got a job as a Comptometer operator for Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey.[2]

Image: Charcoal drawing by Patricia Garske Still of her younger sister Peggie circa 1943-45. Image courtesy of Curt Freed.

In 1957, Pati wed Still, and four years later they bought and moved to a 22-acre farm in New Windsor, Maryland. In 1966, they purchased a second home in town but kept the farm. In a Baltimore Sun obituary for Pati, Still’s elder daughter Diane said, “She devoted her life to his life, and to his art. She provided a comfortable home so he could concentrate and paint.” Still’s younger daughter, Sandra, wrote in a note to Pati after Still’s death, “To Dearest Pati, The one person who understood and walked alongside greatness – always faithfully and courageously.”

Image: Portrait of Patrica Still standing between Clyfford Still’s studio workstation and PH-1024, in the barn studio in Westminster, MD, 1976 October 5. Photo attributed to Clyfford Still. Courtesy of the Clyfford Still Archives

Pati’s dedication to Still was all-encompassing and we have many glimpses of it in the Clyfford Still Archives—letters between the two, Pati’s reflections, watercolors painstakingly painted to document Still’s work, notes to Pati indicating her role as the organizer of Still’s professional life. Our archivists lovingly refer to her as Still’s first archivist because she created the intricate system used by the Museum to document all of Still’s works—approximately 840 paintings and 2,500 works on paper—as well as the archival materials.

Patricia Still created this watercolor reproduction of PH-82 (1947-48) with the intention of documenting the original painting’s inclusion in the 1950 exhibition “Paintings by Clyfford Still” at the Metart Gallery in San Francisco. Since the exhibition was not photographed, Mrs. Still painted miniature representations of the thirteen paintings that were shown in the gallery. This series of detailed reproductions serves as a visual extension of Mrs. Still’s documentary process, a practice that she continued when cataloging artworks that had not been photographed for Still’s studio records prior to leaving his collection. Image: Patricia Still, Watercolor reproduction of PH-82 (1947-48), no date. Courtesy Clyfford Still Archives © Patricia Still.

Pati passed away in 2005 at the age of 85; she was still living a quiet life in New Windsor surrounded by her and her late husband’s legacy. After many meetings with representatives from various cities, in 2004 she selected Denver to receive Still’s collection. When she passed, she bequeathed her own estate to Denver which included additional paintings by Still and the archives.

Image: Sculpture by Patricia Still. Image courtesy of Curt Freed.

It’s clear that Pati was selfless, stalwart and deeply committed to Still as a partner and as an artist, defying conventions and perhaps her family’s approval. But she was something else too. She was a passionate artist and poetic appreciator of art. Describing a painting by Still shown at the Betty Parsons Gallery in February 1951, she wrote: “For centuries I have been sitting here looking at this picture. And every word and every feeling and every emotion that I conjure up mean nothing in relation to it. There is no emotion — I can find no word that anywhere approximates it. I can express no positive thing because the picture is the only positive thing. Somehow at this moment all the things that have gone to make me – the loves, the hates, the bitternesses – the joys and ecstasies, the dull, the routine – the neurotic – the willful – the timid inadequate – and the objective positive – have all dropped away and it is just me and the picture and this moment is the only eternity.”

[1] Rasmussen, Frederick N. “Patricia A. Still, 85, artist, widow of acclaimed painter,” The Baltimore Sun, August 26, 2005.

[2] Ibid.

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