Last month, we presented the first in a series of blogs to preview the survivor plate from this year’s upcoming Reach for the Stars Gala. Several people come together to make this special piece of artwork happen. The first person was Catalina, our Child and Adolescent Therapist, and we told you about her important work doing art therapy. The second person involved in this process is longtime REACH volunteer and supporter, Pat Mattina.
Pat, an artist herself, first began working with REACH in 2003. At the time she was showing at the New Art Center in Newtonville where she met a member of REACH’s Advisory Board who happened to attend the opening. Pat was also teaching full time with at-risk teens, and the Advisory Board member thought that this combination of experience would make her a good potential volunteer for REACH. At the time, the plans for the first Reach for the Stars Gala were just beginning to take shape. Pat came into the office to meet with a REACH Board member who also had connections and experience in the art world, and the idea of creating plates as part of the fundraiser came into being. Together they created a list of the artists that they knew, and that first year, they reached out to 116! They were pleasantly surprised at the overwhelming response from the artists who said yes – not just that first year, but year after year. Over time they developed a way to rotate returning artists so that the pool could grow and change from year to year. “The plates were raising money, and we eventually needed other ways to increase our funds, but the plates have remained our ‘brand’,” Pat says. “They’re always priceless and thoughtfully created. Our Event Committee started as a small group of people, and I’m really proud that I was on board for those early days. The Star Artists often say, ‘Thank you so much for asking me’ which is precious. It’s a way for them to give to REACH and through their creative vision.” Since that first year, Pat has remained on board as a liaison between REACH and the artists who work on plates for the gala.
“Why plates?” we asked. Pat answered that the idea arose as a metaphor for nourishment – nourishment of all kinds. The concept gave artists many ways to explore how they might “move with and be moved by” the plate. One of the earliest Reach for the Stars artists drilled a hole through the plate and put a baby bottle through it. Underneath the structure, she placed a mirror. A lot of artists used stars, given the name of the event. Famed artist Nancy Schön used her trademark ducklings. “The artists were encouraged to follow their own path,” Pat said, “knowing this was a way that they could give.” A lot of Pat’s work involved helping artists to understand the materials at first. In some respects it was a learning journey for her as well. She says she was “clueless” about the process of glazing the plates, which is so different from the painting process. She sat down with a potter at the high school where she taught. The potter gave her tips about what to do and definitely not do, such as apply too much glaze. Pat learned that a thick blob of glaze would crawl away during the glazing process. She helps the artists learn these ins and outs that she has learned. “I tell them, learn the basic do’s and don’ts, but then stay true. If you’re going to do something unusual, let me know and I’ll help you through the process. I told last year’s survivor artist, ‘You can do anything – even break the platter’.” The relief felt by the artist was immediate. And though she chose not to break the platter, she broke mirrors instead, gluing them onto the surface of the platter, and then writing a poem that reflected her experience.
In short, the job of artist liaison amounts to a lot of hours on the phone supporting artists through the process or one-on-one with survivors at the office. Pat has come to know many of these artists well, and often goes to their openings and thanks them on behalf of REACH. “Sometimes I am asked: ‘What if my plate doesn’t sell?’ I reassure each artist that every plate is priceless; every plate disappears into the hands of its new keeper. It’s my job to remind them how priceless their creative visions are and how much we appreciate their generosity.”
The shape of the plates has changed over the years. After many years of doing round plates (which some gala attendees collected to eventually form sets), the committee decided to try another form, an oval edged platter. Another year it was a bowl, which proved more challenging. The most current form is what Pat calls a “quiet Zen platter form.” They revisit each year what direction they want to go.
Being an artist herself, Pat still manages to get in on the fun as a Returning Star Artist every other year. She calls her approach organic. Her last platter took her about four weeks to complete. In her studio, she moves and is sometimes still with her materials in order to hear within the body-felt experience of what she trusts will eventually come to be an image that feels authentic. After letting each layer dry over the course of those four weeks, the design in her 2017 platter resembled a star, not planned, but rather, moved and felt into existence. She always adds a butterfly-bird to her works, an image which came to her in a dream in 2008 and revealed the word Truth. Birds and butterfly imagery grew from her movement work, and the black square comes from a childhood memory.
As Pat says, “More than anything, it is important for artists to trust their process.”