Frederick Rigley &
Patricia Rhoden Bartels
Painting Buddies

by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater

Sometimes two people just “click,” and a long-lasting friendship is forged. Mutual admiration was not immediate with artists Frederick Rigley and Patricia Rhoden Bartels, but developed with Patricia’s persistent refusal to be ignored. “I kept bugging him,” she chuckled. “Jeannette (Frederick’s wife) had died, and during her illness Frederick had quit painting for about four years. He took care of her and was with her every day in the nursing home. One day, Terry Schultz took me over there to meet him. I said, ‘Oh, I’d like to paint with you!’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, sure,’ and I took him for his word.

“It was when I got my first Lilly Enrichment Grant. I waited a couple of weeks and didn’t hear from him so I called him up. And he tried to get away from me but I wasn’t going to let him,” she laughed. “I just kept bugging him until he came over here and we started painting together.” The two have now been painting partners for longer than eleven years.

When I arrived to interview the artists, I found Patricia sitting on the living room floor dabbing at a small landscape depicting a rural cottage and garden. Frederick sat on a bench nearby, critiquing the angles of the roofline. “The little things I can help her with (like perspective),” he said. “But not the big things.”

Patricia looked up. “As soon as he raises his hand in front of his face, you know he’s going to say something negative,” she commented. “He’ll say the same thing to you every time he walks into the room if you don’t do something (about the flaw he’s identified). Every time he sees it, he’ll point it out until you break down.”

Frederick laughed. “We’re pretty close,” he said. “It’s wonderful the way she puts up with me.”

On three different occasions, Patricia and Frederick have traveled to Newport, Oregon, to paint at the home of Patricia’s sister, Dr. Kathryn Godinet. “We just put up her garage door and stand side-by-side. Her place is up on this cliff that overlooks the harbor. You look to the right and there’s a bridge that spans the water and then it’s the ocean. You look down straight ahead and you’re looking into the harbor at all the fishing boats because it’s a fishing community. Frederick had to teach me to paint boats. I had no background in boats at all! And then you look to the left where the mountains start to jut up. We’d get up early in the morning and paint the mist. At night we’d paint the lights. It’s just non-stop painting. We exhaust ourselves.

“But it’s wonderful because my sister loves art and she’s a great cook. So she just keeps feeding us,” Patricia explained. Frederick chimed in, “That’s the worst thing about her. She’s just too good a cook!”

Frederick, who celebrated his 90th birthday this summer, has recently undergone cataract surgery. “I’m in shock,” he said. “I’m seeing so much better. I just can’t realize it—so much color! Now my past paintings don’t look right. The colors don’t work out well.”

“Color is so important,” Patricia declared. “It’s frustrating because you paint under a certain light or natural light, and at a show they use different light which sometimes makes the painting look too warm.”

“Marie Goth always painted by natural light next to the window,” Frederick added.

Patricia continued, “We’ve been out painting when it suddenly gets dark and you’re just grabbing colors based on value. You really get some interesting results.” She pointed out a nearby painting on three panels depicting branches reaching up into a silver sky. “I painted this when the lights went out during a storm. I just kept painting and am happy with the results.”

For Frederick, painting outside is preferable. “I always painted outside 99% of the time,” he said, “and now she’s painting mostly inside. That’s where we have a little conflict. We still paint outside together, but it’s a lot easier painting inside. The values are less confusing (not to mention the weather and bugs).”

“I used to paint a lot quicker,” he added. “I can show you three or four of my nice paintings that I did in the mornings. They were all done on location with only a few minutes of touch up later.”

When artists paint together, they often influence one another’s work. I asked Patricia and Frederick about their artistic effects upon each other. “His color has definitely changed,” Patricia declared. “His colors were more subdued in earlier work. And I think my work has changed too. Frederick is very good on composition, design and architectural elements.”

While out painting, the two artists don’t follow a particular routine. “Very rarely, when we’re painting together, will we say a whole lot to each other. We’ll go four or five hours and not say much,” Patricia said. Sometimes they will go indoors and critique their work at the end of the day.

Frederick Rigley recently presented a solo exhibit that attracted many buyers to the Brown County Art Guild. “However,” Patricia observed, “people have a tendency to pay more for (works by) a dead artist than a live artist.”

“Oh sure,” Frederick laughed. “I’m almost there. I’ve been doing pretty well, money-wise, since I turned 90!”

Both Federick and Patricia’s paintings can be found at the Brown County Art Guild. Frederick’s paintings are also displayed at the Artists Colony Inn and Gallery. Patricia is represented at the Peter Grant Gallery on 82nd Street in Indianapolis; the Toledo (Ohio) Museum’s Collector’s Corner; and sells her work through an international representative at Sotheby’s.