When Gerald Patten was in second grade at Delhi Public School, he did an art project featuring all of the presidents of the United States.
“At the time that would have been through Eisenhower,” Patten said. Patten’s presidential poster was selected to be displayed at the county school building (now on the Redwood County fairgrounds) along with those of other students from across the county.
That event made an impression on him, and now, decades later, Patten has created a new series of paintings he is calling “Portraits of Leadership.” He exhibited those portraits recently in Redwood Falls at the Redwood Area Community Center (RACC).
According to Patten, the portraits began with one painting he planned to do for a DFL event being held in the area in March.
Al Franken was scheduled to be the featured speaker at that event, Patten explained, and he thought doing a portrait painting of him would serve as a good backdrop for his presentation. That event was cancelled and the state was shut down, which meant Patten, like the rest of Minnesota, was at home.
For Patten spring is one of his most creative times, and without a specific project, he started adding to his portraits. Over the next few months, Patten painted 18 portraits of political leaders, including a number of presidents and people who have served in leadership roles in Minnesota.
Each of the paintings was based on a photo of the person, said Patten, adding he enjoyed the chance to be creative and to honor people he admires.
Patten has met many of the people he painted, and alongside his portraits were some of the photos he has of himself with people like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Gov. Tim Walz.
Patten recalled the chance he had to meet Barack Obama when he visited Minneapolis.
“I shook his hand,” Patten said, adding he was wearing his Vietnam service hat. “He thanked me for my service and reached in his pocket and gave me one of his presidential coins.”
Knowing options to display his portraits were limited, Patten took the initiative and held his own show July 19 at the Redwood Area Community Center in Redwood Falls.
In addition to the portraits, Patten provided some historical context for visitors. Patten indicated one of the highlights for him was watching a seven-year-old boy in his Boy Scout uniform walking along, looking at each portrait and reading the historical information.
“He spent 45 minutes to an hour just looking,” added Patten.
Patten expressed his thanks to everyone who attended and to Angie Parker-Schmidt who created the display signs for the show. It is nice to know there are local businesses that have that kind of talent, he added.
Patten is planning to exhibit his art in other venues in the future and is hoping to display them at DFL headquarters in St. Paul.