Prominent local artist rediscovered by military
Family continues Terrance Patterson’s gallery on Westside
In the 1960s and '70s, the U.S. Air Force respected the skills of Terrance Patterson so highly that the civil-service commercial artist even had his own building at Peterson Field to work on larger projects. His creations ranged from paintings to sculptures to parade floats and included the white-winged marble
sculpture in 1973, still on display in Memorial Park, in honor of the Air Force and the Aerospace Defense Command.
But until recently the military had forgotten who he was. An article in the June 23 issue of Peterson Air Force Base's Space Observer described a set of nine 3-by-4-foot paintings “depicting the history of air and space” inside the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station technical support building's lobby, whose artist - the signature was simply “T. Patterson” - had been “for years… a mystery.”
However, an Air Force captain eventually concocted an Internet search with effective parameters, and sure enough it revealed a place on Pecan Street, on the Westside of Colorado Springs, named the Terrance Patterson Gallery. The artist had started the business, specializing in small soldier statue replicas, after retiring from commercial art work in 1979, and he continued it until his death in 1991.
Now the family triumvirate that has kept the gallery going - Patterson's widow Betty Jo (whom he'd married in 1949), his son Todd and wife Jill (married since 1990) - are basking in newfound glory. The Air Force not only plans to create a plaque for Terrance that will be installed by the paintings and explain them, it has added them to the Air Force's official art collection. The latter honor means that they will be trackable and can never again be stuck unceremoniously in a storage closet, as happened in the 1980s, after the nine paintings, which had once graced the walls of the military's 1963-built Chidlaw Building on East Bijou Street, were taken down as part of an apparent redecoration effort. (Later in the '80s, they were found in storage by the then-division chief of the Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, and they've hung there ever since.)
According to a follow-up Air Force Times article this month, in which Todd was interviewed, he “remembers the paintings well. His father labored over the project for a year, meticulously checking to make sure the timeline of events was correct and carefully positioning the subjects on the canvas.”
The work was titled “The History of Flight,” according to an article in 1979, in which Terrance was interviewed by Debra Skodack of the local Gazette-Telegraph newspaper.
The only drawback, if that's the right word, is that the nine paintings show the faces of numerous individuals prominent in air and space travel over the centuries, but nowhere are they identified, nor does Terrance seem to have left behind a list.
Aside from the potential boost that the “History of Flight's” new notoriety may give to the business, Jill Patterson believes it only right that her father-in-law is being posthumously recognized. His parade floats alone, which routinely won grand prize awards, “were incredible,” she said. “One of them had a giant eagle with wings that moved. If anybody had seen him at Pasadena [home of the annual Rose Parade], they would have hired him.” Summarizing his talent, she said, “He had mad skills.”
Terrance served in the military in his teens, having lied about his age to get in and then being assigned to Korea just after World War II. He left after his enlistment was up and, after working at different jobs, was able to get a job as a graphic artist around 1960 at the recently opened Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
He'd never had formal art training, but his skills steadily became apparent - to the military, which kept giving him more challenging assignments, and to himself. “As time went on, he got into painting and sculpting,” Todd said. “He was never afraid of diving into a project.”
Todd was just 13 when he first went to work for his father. At the time, Terrance was starting to transition into a business of his own and thought there might be a market for the bronzes he liked sculpting and to-scale statues he was crafting that were about 3 feet tall. At one point, he was even talking with a previous owner of the former Golden Cycle gold-mill property about a project - which never got past the talking stage - to sculpt a 40-foot-tall miner that would be displayed at the entrance to the property. “He was fascinated with big stuff,” Todd recalled.
But for a young teenager, lugging around large, heavy objects, not to mention being criticized by Dad for quality lapses, did not seem like the ideal future.
Todd took a hiatus around age 16, but a year after he graduated from Cheyenne Mountain High School in 1979, he “kind of got back into it,” he said. By then the business had moved from the family garage to a building in the 600 block of West Colorado Avenue. Todd liked being able to help on the management side and “chase problems down,” as he put it.
Also, by then the size of the figures was a little less imposing. There wasn't a market for original bronzes, and Terrance had met someone who worked in mold-making for Michael Garman, which got him thinking about statues in that size range.
He also had been contacted by someone in the Air Force about making a miniature statue of a fighter pilot. It turned out to be his first of that size (close to a foot and a half tall). In the 1979 Skodack article, he was quoted as saying, “It took me two years to research that piece. I had to research the helmet, the oxygen mask and the parachute.”
Over the years, the pilot replica has changed three or four times in subtle ways, to keep up with changes in military uniforms. “But it's still the same piece,” Todd said. Such is also true for the gallery's other contemporary military statues. A new change, which will affect several of them, is a decision by military heads to move away from berets to baseball hats, Todd reported with a frown.
When changes are necessary, the gallery creates a statue from an old mold, sculpts the changes onto it, then uses it to make a new mold, he said.
Before dying in 1991 of a brain tumor at age 62, Terrance designed close to 100 statue figures, of which about 75 are still used, according to Todd. The terrancepatterson.com website shows 40, in the categories of Military, Western, Surveyors and Rodeo.
The best seller, Betty Jo pointed out, is the Revolutionary War-era “Minuteman,” which has become the symbol of the U.S. National Guard.
Typically, about 90 percent of the gallery's business comes from people finding the site on the Internet. Patterson statues are known to numerous military units, which order them as awards or going-away presents for fellow soldiers.
The business has been at 1361 Pecan St. since 1988, employing two people in addition to the family members. All the production occurs there. To make the statues, as explained on the website, a gypsum cement mixture called hydrocal is poured into the molds. When dry, a statue is painted with a bronze patina and clear coat of acrylic to protect it further.
Westside Pioneer article