Odyssey Medal

Patterson Clark ’77

Remarks by Patterson Clark ’77 after receiving his Odyssey Medal for Artistic Creativity, Nov. 14, 2019:

Thank you Katie, and my thanks to the Board of Trustees for this honor.

And thank you all for coming this evening.

This really feels like coming home.

I had the great fortune of growing up in the Hendrix community, and have always been inspired by, and am most grateful for that privilege.

That community, of course, included my father, Tom Clark, prairie farmer turned botany professor, who opened my eyes to nature and myriad ways of learning, my sisters Nancy and Holly, who continue to inspire me, and my mother, Natalie Clark, who has always been a role model for devotion to family and community service.

She couldn’t be here tonight, but she’s watching us through the lens of that iPad over there.

People from the Hendrix community taught me how to swim, took me on zoological surveys, taught me to sing, introduced me to literature, and even cast me in a bit part for a Shakespeare play — all before I became a teenager.

My first paycheck came from Hendrix, when I worked as a laborer on the grounds crew, pushing Yazoo mowers across campus for three long, hot summers during high school.

When I entered Hendrix as a student, I was laser-focused on what I wanted to pursue — ornithology; but the liberal arts atmosphere has a pesky way of broadening one’s perspective.

Midway through my senior year at Hendrix, I decided to change course and become an artist.

I walked over to Trieschmann Hall and told my art guru, professor Bill Hawes about the decision, and he said, “Finish the biology degree.”

“Then study art.”

Fair enough. But if that was his reaction, what were my folks going to say?

They didn't bat an eye.

“Follow your dream,” they said, “Don’t worry about the money, just be on the lookout for opportunities.”

One lucky break came from The Arkansas Gazette in the early 1980s where inspiration from people like reporter Michael Haddigan convinced me that journalism can provide a platform for blending art and science in a way that can help inform people from a wide range of economic and educational backgrounds.

At its best, journalism is a pillar of democracy, a public service, and can even act as an environmental service.

Another watershed opportunity emerged during volunteer work, while removing exotic invasive vegetation from a park in DC, near the home I share with my marvelous wife Lenore Rubino.

After a couple of years of weed pulling, I realized I’d developed an antagonistic relationship with these plants, and really didn’t want to feel that way while working outdoors.

So I shifted to a more positive and sustainable approach: I’d still be removing invasive species, but my motive switched from eradication to harvest, and these non-native, opportunistic interlopers — which in many ways reflect ourselves — became my new teachers.

They offered food, medicine, fuels, lumber, chemicals, fibers, even fragrances. Pigments, papers and woodblocks — all extracted from alienweeds — converged on the bed of a printing press to form an art that draws attention to our fellow ecologically disruptive organisms.

They provide a superabundance of hidden treasure.

To find that treasure,
I watch closely,
suspend my expectations,
draw inspiration from others,
keep a lookout for opportunities,
and express my gratitude.

Thank you.