Patty Talbert: Turns craft into art


By Christy Jobman, Contributor


Whether it’s through the way she dresses, the company she keeps or her batik artwork, Patty Talbert has always had a strong desire to express herself. 

Her love for art eventually led her to obtain a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from UNO in 2001. 

“Art has given me a sense of purpose and a vehicle to express my feelings and desires,” she said. “(It is) something I used to do through the clothes I wore and people I spent time with.” 

Talbert not only creates art pieces as her profession, but also surrounds herself with artwork at home, which doubles as her studio. Talbert lives in lofts filled with people who share her passion-creating some form of art for others to enjoy. The hallways leading to Talbert’s front door are covered in art pieces created with different materials. A creature created out of foam pieces and feathers guards her neighbor’s door. It resembles a cross between a unicorn, a peacock and a dog. An intricate butterfly is drawn out of sidewalk chalk on Talbert’s front door. 

Talbert’s living space in Omaha is also decorated in pieces of primitive artwork and colorful paintings. Full-bodied plants and antiques fill the corners of her home. The two-bedroom work space offers enough privacy to get Talbert’s creative senses going. She said she works best alone, so the live-in studio is a good place for her to be. 

“My art is a ritualistic process. It is therapeutic for me,” she said. “I can sit and work for six hours if I get in the moment.”

Talbert said she was not always certain of her career path. In fact, it was not art that drove her to attend college, rather it was her interest in her heritage as an African-American. 

“I had a friend who was going to college. She was studying black history,” Talbert said. “She was teaching me things about blacks that I had never learned.”

Talbert realized it was time to go back to school and UNO offered her a Goodrich scholarship to attend. Talbert was interested in the ongoing O.J. Simpson trial, so she chose criminal justice as her major. 

“It wasn’t long before I hated it,” Talbert said. “I wanted to do something I loved, so I switched my major to art.”

Majoring in art was difficult at the beginning, Talbert said.

“It wasn’t as fun when I had to care so deeply,” Talbert said. “Before it wasn’t so much about the elements of design, the repetition or the patterns. I could do what I wanted.”

Talbert rebelled when creating her first painting. Her instructors insisted she could not mix oil and charcoal together when painting. Talbert tried anyway, and her painting came out beautifully. She realized she could still put her own spin on her artwork, even if it was for a degree.

Talbert suffered her first artist’s block while attending UNO. A professor sent her to Dawn Scott, a Jamaican batik artist, for inspiration. Scott worked at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art and had an extensive amount of experience, Talbert said.

“She was very skilled,” Talbert said, smiling widely as she remembered her mentor. “She could make a batik looking like a painting, which is difficult.” 

Talbert’s greatest learned passion is batik, which is done on cloth. To make batik, selected areas of the cloth are blocked out by brushing or drawing hot wax over them. The cloth is dyed and the parts covered in wax maintain the original color when the wax is removed. Repetition is crucial to create the overall design, Talbert said. 

Talbert showed her professor the new skill she learned from her mentor.

“It’s really a craft, not an art,” her professor told her, and she agreed, as it would be hard to sell pieces of cloth.

She wanted to create something her professor would consider fine art, so she started creating hand-carved stamps on linoleum blocks of wood to add her own edge. The stamps, created with intricate designs, could be used to put paint on a canvas and she was able to frame them. 

“I found a way to get creative and made it my own,” Talbert said. “I had never seen anyone use stamps in batik before.”

Talbert had an African-American art exhibit at the Love’s Jazz & Arts Center in 2009. Her former UNO professor, Bonnie O’Connell, said it was the exhibit that “put her on the map.”

“It was a very successful show,” O’Connell said. “Patty was recognized in the local art community after that.”