Indispensable woman of Md. arts

June 19, 2005|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

She's our North Star," Gerald Heeger, president of University of Maryland University College, says of Pikesville's Doris Patz.

The North Star is the most recognizable of all stars, not unlike Patz in Maryland's art world.

Patz's decades of networking among Maryland artists, art organizations and people has resulted in a music program, an art collection, a mansion, a regent's scholarship and a writing contest.

Patz was thrust into the fine arts arena through her music in Pittsburgh, where, as a child, she played violin and viola.

In 1928, at the age of 16, her musical talents landed her a scholarship from Pittsburgh's Department of Music to attend the debut of the National High School Orchestra Camp, created by Joseph Maddy in Interlochen, Mich.

Interlochen opened with John Philip Sousa at the podium. Patz said she will never forget him.

"He stood out, not just because of his talent," Patz said. "It was his attire and appearance I remember. He conducted in his military uniform."

Patz received formal music instruction at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Tech School until she married Nathan Patz in 1932 in Ventnor City, N.J.

The couple moved to Baltimore that year, and Patz immediately joined the Baltimore Women's String Symphony Orchestra and the Gettysburg Symphony Orchestra. She played with both groups until the 1940s, when they disbanded.

During World War II, she was a member of the Civil Mobilization Corps in Baltimore.

"We would meet at the Enoch Pratt Library in downtown Baltimore," Patz said. "My job was to place volunteers all over the city wherever they were needed for the war effort."

The organizational skills she gained and the contacts she made helped her make her way in the Baltimore art world.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, said he met Patz in the early 1980s. During that decade, she helped Kirwan and others at the University of Maryland build the music program.

"Through her philanthropy and knowledge of music, she helped us create a strong music program," Kirwan said. "During this time we built a magnificent performing arts center. If you look at one volunteer for catalyst for the arts program at College Park, it would be Doris.

"There's no question that without her inspirations, financial support and encouragement this would not have happened. She has wonderful contacts in the music and art world, and her friends are supporters of the arts. She helped encourage the program through sponsoring of events more than anyone else."

Through her philanthropy and contacts, Patz created one of the state's most significant repositories of works by Maryland artists. The Doris E. Patz Collection of Maryland Artists is displayed at University of Maryland University College's Inn and Conference Center. The collection totals more than 400 pieces and continues to grow.

The idea for the collection came to her, Patz said, when she noticed that the walls of the new conference center at University College were empty. She devised a plan to fill them.

"I went to Dr. John Toll [former president of the University System of Maryland] and asked if I could establish an art collection to hang on the walls," Patz said. "John said he'd love to have the walls covered. So I went over and looked at the walls to see what I would need to fill them and went home and got to work."

Patz started with about 150 letters to Maryland artists.

"My first response came from Eugene `Bud' Leake," Patz said. "He wrote, `I doff my hat to you for recognizing Maryland artists. We have always been a second-class citizen in our state." He sent Patz artwork along with the letter.

Patz worked tirelessly each year to see her project realized, Heeger said.

"Doris is 93, but she's a 45-year-old visionary about what Maryland artists should be," Heeger said. "She spent thousands of hours every year working on the collection. She did it herself. If an artist required a letter, she wrote it. If they required a visit, she got in her car and visited. It was her personal energy and intellectual leadership that reached out to the artists, and they responded in a big way."

" I enjoyed visiting the Baltimore Museum of Art," Patz said. "On one visit, I noticed my favorite collection of 26 mythical bronze pieces missing from its galleries. They were changing art around and it wasn't being displayed."

Patz went home and wrote a letter to the museum, asking for the pieces for her collection for UMUC.

The museum responded with a letter saying, "We can't make a judgment now, but we'll be in touch."

"After reading that, I thought there was no way we would get them," Patz said.

When the museum called saying the collection was hers, she was pleasantly surprised.

"I saw the gesture as the start of a wonderful rapport between the Baltimore Museum of Art and the University of Maryland," Patz said. "However, the catch was I had to come to the museum, where a security guard would be waiting and go straight to the college and deliver them."

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