It started with grief for children she didn’t know.
The 20 first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School a year ago made artist Wendy Patterson think of her granddaughter, just a year younger, and how much she loves children at that age.
Eventually, the sketches Patterson made in response to the Sandy Hook shooting became a series of paintings she calls “The Twenty,” which she describes as an elegy and love song to all children, not just the ones who died.
“There’s such an assault against children in so many different ways that I wanted to reconnect with that tender quality that we need to have for our children as a culture, as a society,” Patterson said. “We need to see them all as (though) we are like a village. We all have to take care of them and nurture them.”
Patterson’s paintings will go on display Sunday in the parish hall at St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Church in Richmond. A reception is scheduled for 1:30-2:30 p.m., though Patterson said it will be postponed until the next Sunday if there’s heavy snow.
Patterson, who lives in Gray, began by drawing her daughter and granddaughter, her frequent subjects, and incorporated other scenes, such as an uncle playing songs for children on a piano and a woman braiding a girl’s hair. She said it was important to depict not only children but also the people who care for them, like the six school employees who were also killed at Sandy Hook.
Twelve small encaustic paintings, which are created with pigmented wax, will be arranged around a larger painting of an apple tree, inspired by imagery from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” poems of the laughter and voices of children in an apple tree.
“You can hear it, but you half-hear it,” Patterson said. “There’s kind of this mystery to it. I think we need that when we’re dealing with such a tragedy as this. We need kind of a belief in the redeeming powers of life around us.”
“The Twenty” debuted recently at Fiddlehead Art and Science Center in Gray. Patterson said she is looking for other schools, churches, libraries or art centers where it can be displayed in the coming year.
In Richmond, the exhibit will be on view from 1:30-2:30 p.m. on Sundays until Jan. 5, or by appointment with Patterson, who can be reached at 657-3886 or through her website, www.pattersonstudios.us.
Although she’s upset by the fact that nearly 200 children have been killed with guns since Sandy Hook, the exhibit is not meant as a political statement about gun violence or anything else. Patterson said she also worries about children suffering from bullying, exploitation and exposure to inappropriate media.
“I think it’s so important that we get in touch with our children’s needs in this culture,” she said. “It’s a dangerous world, and we need to protect our children, we need to watch out for them. It’s a sign of who we are as a people, how we treat our children. I hope this work helps further that sensitivity.”