Archives Diary: Meet G. William Patten

George William Patten, known to his friends as Bill, pictured in 1940s-1950s.

George William Patten, known to his friends as Bill, pictured in the 1940s-1950s, G. William Patten Papers, MS.2003.042, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Parents everywhere can be found lecturing their children about the value of hard work and working your way up through an organization starting at the bottom. Now those parents have more ammo: local artist G. William Patten (1907-1986), whose success story is told in his papers.

Diagram of the Vought Corsair, drawn by Patten.

Diagram of the Vought Corsair, drawn by Patten, Box 7, Folder 8, G. William Patten Papers, MS.2003.042, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Patten was a Boston artist who started honing his craft early – at age 13! – and later became a renowned monument designer and editor of the magazine American Art in Stone. At age 17, he began working as an office boy for the funerary monument company Cook, Watkins, and Patch. He was quickly promoted to the art department, where he remained until his retirement in the 1970s. Patten had a varied career, though. He also drew engineering diagrams for the Corsair fighter plane for the Vought aircraft company during WWII and worked for several architecture companies, including the ecclesiastical design company Louis Lualdi, Inc. While at Lualdi, he designed statuary and carvings for the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

Patten started taking correspondence art courses with the Federal School of Commercial Designing in 1927, sending in assignments and receiving his critiques and grades via letter. Over the years, Patten took art classes at several local institutions: Boston Museum of Art (now known as the Museum of Fine Arts), Massachusetts School of Art, Boston Architectural Club, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University.

Demolished buildings and the construction of new ones, like the Prudential Center, were frequent sketching subjects for Patten.

Demolished buildings and the construction of new ones, like the Prudential Center, were frequent subjects for Patten, circa 1960s, Box 3, Folder 1, G. William Patten Papers, MS.2003.042, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

His connection to Boston is clear in his sketches, in which the city’s architecture is featured prominently. During the 1960s, Patten traveled around the city to draw beautiful old buildings that were being torn down and construction sites for new buildings, including the iconic Prudential Center (completed 1964). In addition to Boston, Patten’s personal interests focused on art, particularly the richness of symbolism and iconography. This is not surprising, given that he worked frequently on Catholic structures, churches, cathedrals, and even Boston College High School. Patten kept a vast number of notebooks with notes and sketches on various symbols and icons. He also had a very active interest in Egypt, traveling there several times – no easy feat in the 1970s!

Not only did Patten start young, he also carried on creating artwork and studying art long after his retirement. Kenyon C. Bolton III and Associates held an event exhibiting Patten’s work in the 1980s, when Patten was in his late 70s. May we all be so lucky as to find a hobby – much less a profession – that lasts for over 70 years.

Patten drew all the illustrations in this advertisement for Mount Airy, N.C. companies North Carolina Granite Corporation and J.D. Sargent Granite Company.

Patten drew the illustrations in this advertisement for the North Carolina Granite Corporation and J.D. Sargent Granite Company, Box 14, Folder 11, G. William Patten Papers, MS.2003.042, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

This collection, which includes artwork, architectural drawings, blueprints, correspondence, clippings, exhibition catalogs, notes, photographs, publications, sketchbooks, and writings, is now open to researchers. We hope you will visit us to use the papers and make your own discoveries. For more information on this collection, please see the finding aid, or contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Stephanie Bennett, Archives Assistant, Archives & Manuscripts, John J. Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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