Cleveland Comhrá: Patricia Krueger-Harding
by Bob Carney
A few weeks back, Mary and I had just finished walking our dogs around Hinckley Lake, when a man came up and asked if they were Irish wolfhounds? He introduced himself and explained his sister had recently finished doing a portrait of wolfhounds on an egg.
I didn’t really know what to expect, but I gave him my contact info to pass along to his sister and said if she sent me a photo, we might be able to use it in the paper. Later that weekend, I received an email from Patricia and was amazed when I opened the attached photos. I called her and we set up a visit at her home studio in Sterling, Ohio.
Patricia Harding is a portrait artist, self-taught, but credits her father for being her inspiration and teaching her the basics. She also said having the same art teacher throughout her school years was very helpful and that teacher saw something in her and kept her focused on portraits. Patricia is very modest when she talks about her talent, saying, “Anybody can draw, even though they say they can’t. If you can draw geometric shapes, you can draw, you just put them together.” For the past forty-eight years, she’s been putting the shapes together and creating beautiful paintings.
OhioIANews: When did you begin working with ostrich eggs and what inspired you?
Patricia: A couple of years ago, a friend had some rhea eggs she had sold to a woman in Brookfield and was going to meet her halfway. She asked if I wanted to go for a ride to keep her company and we would stop for lunch. That was when I met Ruth Jennings and when I saw what she was doing I became very interested, but I also saw that it could easily become a lost art.
My grandfather, Hugh McNeil Harrison, was a plasterer in Ireland, Co. Antrim, Portrush; he was born in Port Stuart. Anyway, he did designs and ornamental trim work all in plaster, something that is rarely done now. So I think that was part of the reason I studied with Ruth.
My first egg was a goose egg, where you decorate the outside and cut a door and then put something inside as a decoration. When Ruth asked what I was going to put inside, I replied I was going to paint the inside. The part that really intrigued me was the cutting of the doors, to be able to carve, sculpt and paint on the egg!
So I started with ostrich eggs. The fun part is, every one is unique. As an artist, I like to tell a story, whether it’s on a canvass or an egg. On the egg, I have to lay it all out. It’s a challenge keeping the drawing in perspective when you’re working on a curved surface; things can easily become distorted. First, I design and draw it out, then I mark where I want to cut away the shell, and then do the relief carving. It’s fun to see how far you can go. The shells are sturdy, but thinner in some places.
I use a high speed dentist’s drill for the cutting and carving, then paint and add decoration such as cyrstal to give it a touch of bling or sparkle. I did an egg for my grandson with thirteen dinosaurs on it and used cyrstals for the eyes.
An ostrich will lay around six eggs to a clutch during a very short breeding season. We buy the eggs that don’t hatch from breeders and give life to them in a different way.
OhioIANews: Tell us about your non-profit, Faces of Angels.
Patricia: My best friend had passed from ovarian cancer. I was on the way home and I had a conversation with God. “There are so many bad people out there, why do You take the good ones?”
When I got done beating on the steering wheel and yelling and screaming in my car, I went to see my dad. He put his arm around me and said “You’ll grow from this.”
I couldn’t see how that was possible, but on the way home from dad’s, I said to God, “Ok, you gave me this gift, the ability to paint, what do You want me to do with it? What can I do?” And just like you and I talking here, He said to me, “Paint the children and paint them well.”
I thought,” Ok, what children?” He said, “St. Jude.” That’s a big thing, it’s huge; I’m just one person, I can’t do that.
So for quite a few years, I tried to figure a way to make this happen. I thought maybe a calendar, where the parents would receive the original painting. St. Jude’s could sell the calendars and the people that purchased them would get a tax write off.
Even though the recognition was not important, it would benefit my career, people would know it was my work. But I was afraid, it was still a large undertaking; I was only one person. I didn’t know many other artists and even if I did, who would want to donate their time and talent just because I asked? I was given opportunities that I passed up because of that fear.
I met a doctor from St. Judes at a chance encounter, as well as the owner of a large calendar company. Finally, on my fiftieth birthday, God and I had another conversation. I asked what I was supposed to be doing, I had this gift, but I hadn’t made it as an artist.
He said, “you haven’t painted the children.” I said ok, I’ll do it, however you want me to do it. I was in my car when the phone rang with no caller id. Normally, I wouln’t answer, but I did, and the man on the phone said “ I understand you want to paint the children.”
I was stunned. I said “I do.” He was part of the Alladin Foundation in Akron; it’s kind of like “Make a Wish Foundation” for the Akron area. We met and I was introduced to the people at Akron Children’s Hospital. I started doing portraits of children who have passed for their families. Not everyone wants one, but it seems to help heal some who have lost a child.
OhioIANews: Patricia’s commisioned oil paintings and ostrich eggs help support the non-profit Faces of Angels, which she started in 2002. You can reach her and see more of her work at www.facesofangels.com, www.plkreations.com, or email her: [email protected]. Tell her Bob sent you.
*Bob Carney is a student of Irish history and language and teaches the Speak Irish Cleveland class held every Tuesday @Pj McIntyre’s. He is also active in the Irish Wolfhounds and Irish dogs organizations in and around Cleveland. Wife Mary and hounds Cian and Morrighanand terrier Doolin keep the house jumping. He can be contacted at [email protected]