Arts and Entertainment

Sequim artist specializes in flights of fancy

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Sequim Gazette

Talk about your multi-talented artist.


With 27 years of practice under her belt, Sequim’s Priscilla Messner-Patterson now describes herself as an “aviation art specialist” who also happens to produce pencil sketches, oil paintings, watercolor scenes and the occasional still life. If that weren’t enough, she’s also available to law enforcement officials who want to utilize her training in forensic and composite drawing.


Given her resume, you naturally would assume Patterson grew up with a pencil in her hand. Instead her story is a casebook example of better late than never.


Patterson grew up wanting to draw and paint, but in her family, she said, there was “no room for art school, no money for college.”


So Patterson took a job and earned a paycheck, eventually working her way up the corporate ladder to become a human resources manager for Pacific Telephone in California.


Given the California traffic and the crowds, the lifestyle wasn’t entirely suited to Patterson’s taste.


Then fate — in the form of the U.S. Supreme Court — intervened.


Because Ma Bell was breaking up, Patterson was given an opportunity to retire from Pacific Telephone with a few bucks in her pocket. Like Huck Finn before her, she “lit out for the Territory.”


In 1983 Patterson showed up on Kodiak Island, a dot in the Gulf of Alaska, where she followed her childhood dream of becoming an artist.


She threw herself into it, both reading about art and practicing it. Before long she found she had achieved a certain level of expertise, a level sufficient to earn her a position on the art faculty at Kodiak College.

For the next 17 years she taught watercolors, drawing and the occasional oil painting class.


She also met a guy, Butch Patterson, a former Navy pilot who was serving as a bush pilot for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The two soon married.

Finding her place in the world

Patterson first focused on painting landscapes and wildlife — typical fare for Alaskan artists, she said. As she cast around for something new and different, she realized that flying was a central part of her life on the island.


So she began specializing in aviation art. In January 1994, Patterson applied to and was accepted into the American Society of Aviation Artists. That same year she was accepted into Coast Guard and Air Force art programs.


“The military art programs are pretty cool,” she said. “You tell the story of missions through art.”


When the work is done, the resulting paintings are donated to the military. Works by these artists, including Patterson, “hang in the Pentagon and in offices around the world,” she said.


Patterson also has had the privilege of accompanying the troops on two missions, including one in 2010 to Kotzebue, Alaska. She’s also worked on-site at Elmendorf Air Base in Anchorage a half-dozen times.

Much of her time was spent with the Coast Guard, both in the air “in their C-130s and helicopters” and aboard Coast Guard cutters. Patterson notes that Alaska constitutes the Coast Guard’s single largest area of responsibility, which provided her with “lots of opportunity to interact with personnel.”


Her aviation work has won numerous awards, including honors in Simuflite magazine and Aviation Week and Space Technology.


Her own career behind the flight controls was brief: “I tried flying, but I realized the skies were safer without me.”

Moving south

The Pattersons moved from Kodiak Island to Sequim in 2006. They loved the island, but it was simply too remote. “We were looking for a place with better weather and better access to medical care. We started coming here on vacation and liked it,” she said.


In recent weeks Patterson has been recording some of her favorite Sequim moments in another medium — ink and watercolors. These simple sketches, which she shared with the Gazette, capture the delight she takes in the area’s colorful people and places, and collectively create a unique portrait of her new home.


To see more of Patterson’s work, visit


Reach Mark Couhig at



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