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Laughing With Pat Renick

By Katie Laur · July 4th, 2007 · Editorial

Pat Renick's path crossed mine back in 1976, when both she and I were nominated for a Post Corbett Award in separate categories. She had already won as a visual artist in 1975, and I was nominated as a performing artist.

I can't remember who beat me that year, but I think it was Carmen DeLeone. In those years the Post Corbett Awards were glamorous, Cincinnati's version of the Oscars.

I met Pat in a group photo shoot, and from then on my life opened out to the possibilities of art and music in ways I hadn't thought of before. I don't know if I fully thanked her before her untimely death in May.

Back at the photo shoot, Pat was wearing overalls and a straw boater and was all energy, full of childlike qualities yet formidable. She had just exhibited a real VW Beetle sculpted into a dinosaur at the Cincinnati Art Museum.

The gas crisis had hit the nation -- remember when we could buy gas only on odd or even days? The AP wire picked up the news of her piece, titled "Stegowagenvolkssaurus," and suddenly her name was everywhere. Her car/ dinosaur sculpture swept the country, and she was working on "Triceracopter," an OH-6A helicopter she sculpted into an enormous dinosaur with a propeller on its back.

The sanding alone on either of the pieces must have required the equivalent of hundreds of hours of slave labor. Her accomplishments were far ahead of mine. Was the automobile truly going the way of the dinosaur, national magazines asked? Was war obsolete? It was heady stuff for me.

I didn't see her again for a long time until I began coming down to Kaldi's and Over-the-Rhine in the early 1990s. It was clearly Pat's territory: Everyone knew her, and she knew everyone. She and the other artists who showed up at Final Fridays -- Tom Bacher, Greg Storer, John Steele, Jim Wainscott and others -- made the OTR art gatherings into "events."

Pat was called "Mother Art," and she wore straw boater hats everywhere she went. She and Laura Chapman had organized the first international sculpture conference for women at the University of Cincinnati.

I'd frequently see them at dinner at Kaldi's. On a busy Final Friday, I used to stop by their table on the café side of the coffee shop and sit a minute, catching up on dogs and artists, whichever came first.

In 2002, Lisa Mullins' Enjoy the Arts group celebrated their first 20/20 event with a cocktail party at Phyllis Weston's grand house on Taft Road Lane.

"You've got to go with me, Katie," Lisa said, "I'm going to take Pat Renick, and I need you to talk to her."

I was glad to go. Phyllis' house is always a little like A Midsummer Night's Dream, with its twinkling lights and candles everywhere. It's a real antebellum mansion with floor-to-ceiling oil paintings and sconces that, when lit, look like fairy sparkles from a distance.

All the furniture is slipcovered in white to set off the paintings and sculpture. Outside, the front yard directly overlooks the Ohio River.

"The old owners kept torches burning in the yard on foggy nights for the steamboats to steer by," Phyllis told me once. It was otherworldly.

It was a desert party like something out of that Ingmar Bergman film, the one with all the sweets in shiny foils on thin china plates. Pat had a few glasses of wine -- totally unheard of, for her -- and pretty soon Lisa was nudging me.

"Katie, I can't find Pat anywhere," she said.

I was enjoying some of Phyllis' custard-filled pastries and wasn't anxious to abandon them (alert readers will be reminded of my previous mishaps with her chocolate cake), but Lisa was insistent, so we walked out to the wooded area dividing the Weston property, and there was Pat, hiding and giggling.

"I'm high as a moose," she said, laughing behind her hand.

Lisa and I looked at each other and laughed. "High as a moose?" we said at the same time.

"High as a moose," Pat affirmed, with a positive nod of her head.

"Well," I said, "I guess we'd better get you home if you can fit your antlers in the car."

I took her elbow and guided her back through the house to say good-night to Phyllis.

"It was a lovely party," Pat said, and she made her bows like a schoolgirl. But as soon as Phyllis had shown us to the door, Pat giggled again and repeated what had become her mantra: "I'm high as a moose."

I remember looking at her and thinking how pretty she was, her face slightly freckled, the bone structure perfect. Her eyes were a little brighter than usual. If she'd been taller, she would have looked like Katherine Hepburn.

"Laura is going to kill us," Lisa said, but we kept laughing anyway.

"Just r-r-rroll me out at the curb," Pat said, with a grand flourish, rolling her r's, "and r-r-rring the doorbell."

I was sitting in the front seat eating deviled eggs I'd cadged from somewhere in the kitchen. I was on good terms with Yvonne, Phyllis' cook, and she always packed me a little something to go in case I were to starve between East Walnut Hills and Over-the-Rhine.

I had once taught Yvonne to play "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the piano, and she worked hard to get it right. "I wish I could get that little 'white' beat you get on it," she said, swinging into a jazzy, full-chorded version much better than my own.

That night, Pat was in the back seat, sitting forward so that her head was between Lisa's and mine, and we were all laughing together, full of the fun of the party, enjoying the sweet relief from the day's heat that only an October evening can bring.

Of course we got Pat home, rang the doorbell and Laura took over from there. Pat looked straight at her, as serious as a crutch, and said, "I'm high as a moose."

What golden days those were. What sweet nights.

CONTACT KATIE LAUR: letters@citybeat.com. Her column appears here the first issue of each month.


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