In Search of Gary Patterson
This article first appear in issue 35 of CGN, March/April 1996 Byline: Michael J. Kelly
Gary Patterson is not exactly a household name. (Gary Larsen almost is, but moreon him later.) Who then is Gary Patterson? Drinkware collectors-that's us, you dummies!-the glassers-we don't have any problem sorting the names out. We know who he is and who he isn't-or do we?? Sure, we've seen his name on a lot of the glasses and mugs we collect, but who is he? Since having a sense of humor is a prerequisite for collecting the kinds of things we collect, we-seeing his cartoons on glass or maybe even on calendars or posters- have even grinned, smiled, guffawed, laughed or said to ourselves, "Yup, he got that one right; he hit that one right on the button!"-meaning that that guy is one hell of a cartoonist for the accuracy and insight that he brings to bear on the passions and enthusiasms of us ordinary mortals. We know about the 1982 Arby's thought Factory Set of 4, the 1979 Pepsi Thought Factory Set of 10, the 1980 Pepsi/Las Vegas Thought Factory Set of 6, and we have a passing acquaintance with the various non fast-food or soft drink sponsored mugs and drinkware we casually glance at and pass by as we get on with our quest for ware of greater value (in case you are wondering about value-don't! I don't think I've ever seen a Gary Patterson drink container selling for more than $5). Some of us even know about the two other 1979 Thought Factory glasses that would have given us a set of twelve, not ten: "It's Only a Game" and "Winner Take All." But that's about all we know about Gary Patterson-unless we followed him closely at the beginning of his career in the early 70s and somehow stuck with him to the present day. But now it's 1996, and since his name hasn't been in the headlines or on glasses for quite some time, collectors can be pardoned for not knowing anything much about him. For one thing, it is extremely difficult to locate information on him. There just isn't much (or maybe I've been looking in the wrong places), and I believe that he deserves wider recognition and appreciation. It has taken some digging, but I have been able to piece together some information on him, and in this article I will share with you what I have been able to discover. Keep in mind that some of my sources are a bit dated, but I have no choice but to go with them.
Patterson was born in 1942 and lives in California-Malibu, to be exact. He is now 54 years old. As a child, he liked to scribble on the walls of his house, and he always knew that he was destined to be an artist. He has always been fascinated by sports, but golf has always been his favorite sport and favorite subject for his drawings. He didn't market his golf illustrations until 1972 when a friend suggested that he do it. Those illustrations got him and his Thought Factory company started. Patterson is part owner of the Thought Factory which initially made and distributed novelty paper products-greeting cards, posters, calendars, etc. Presumably these paper products featured Patterson's miserable, pathetic, human creatures pursuing their favorite "sports." I've seen large drawings of some of his frustrated but emotionally preoccupied golfers ("The Pro"), and I'm guessing that some of you have too.
Because Patterson doesn't appear to date his drawings, it's difficult, if not impossible, to be certain about chronology. If you're aware of Patterson's work at all, you know that there's a great number of his cartoons on an impressive variety of glassware: 5 1/2" mugs, 6" mugs, 4 1/2" rocks glasses, 4 3/4" milk glass pedestal mugs, and 6 5/8" 32 oz. pedestal monsters. There are even 4 5/8" ceramic mug-steins and 3 7/8" ceramic coffee mugs made in Japan. My guess is that this drinkware was probably marketed during the 70s. On this drinkware, Patterson departs from his preoccupation with sports to portray the funny lives of secretaries, dentists, dads, and superfans.
From what I can gather, Patterson got a break of some kind and moved on to glass "big time" in 1979, joining forces with Pepsi-Cola for the Thought Factory Sports Series. Ten glasses were produced although twelve were originally planned (note: one of these "un-produced" glasses which exists only as a prototype is entitled "It's only a game" but the same cartoon appears in the 1984 Golfaholic book as "Fore-Warned is Fore-armed"). And as we know, six of these glasses were offered to attendees of the Pepsi Food Service Division Convention in Las Vegas in 1980. The glasses in this set were my first exposure to Patterson. "Leader of the Pack" was the first glass I discovered, and I've been a fan ever since. His next glass project was the Arby's Thought Factory set of four sports glasses in 1982-a smaller set, but featuring the same bewildered, absurd-looking and vulnerable sportspeople. These two big national promotions appear to have been Patterson's most important gigs so far.
By 1984, Patterson was in the business of illustrating books for other people. These books (listed under References below) show that Patterson was moving into a couple of new areas, putting his cartoons to better use, perhaps, by combining them with text. In his 1984 illustrations to Mark Oman's Portrait of a Golfaholic, he humorously portrays all aspects of what he calls "the golfing condition." Then in 1985 he attacks the absurdities of fitness fanatics in Mark Oman's Portrait of a Fitness Fanatic. In 1986 he illustrates for St. Martin's Press a children's book entitled Bah Koo: A Bedtime Story. The illustrations in this book are a radical departure for Patterson in the sense that they are quite un-Pattersonesque-no sick humor, no sarcasm, no miserable humans pursuing their sports obsessions-just normal, traditional kids' fare. However, by 1987 he is back to his old tricks, illustrating in a typical Patterson manner the agonies and absurdities of sailing in Nat Philbrick's The Passionate Sailor. This book, incidentally, does not have the "Thought Factory" imprint that the 1984 and 1985 books do; rather it has a "Full Circle Book" imprint and seemingly unconnected with anything having to do with Patterson's Thought Factory. What gives? Is Gary now in a different orbit? Does the Thought Factory still exist?
The last reference I was able to find about Patterson is quite recent, appearing in October 1995 in The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network. The article (which is not about Patterson) merely discusses the demise of the clock industry in the United States and notes that vendors are looking for new ways to make clocks more appealing and profitable. Spartus, one of these vendors, therefore came up with the [brilliant] idea of "licensing the designs of illustrator Gary Patterson . . . Spartus will introduce several clocks using Patterson's illustrations at the housewares show in January." Look for them soon-in finer stores!
Well, that's about all I was able to find out about Gary Patterson. As I said before, information is very difficult to find. The books he illustrated, as far as I know, are no longer in print, and the books and the two articles were found only after a specialized and expensive on-line search. He doesn't appear to be as visible as he used to be, although he's definitely still out there. He has his fans, and he is definitely "collectible" although both the '79 and '82 thought Factory sets are pretty much dead (the Las Vegas issue is still "alive" and will continue to be until everyone who wants it finally gets it and then it too will probably join the ranks of the "dead"). It appears that we'll soon see his troubled sports addicts on wall clocks sometime soon, but they won't tell us what we want to know.
Blurbs on the back covers of the golf, fitness, and sailing books do contribute a little information, however. This is on the back cover of the golf book: "Gary Patterson is America's best-loved sports artist. His unique and humorous view of sports and the pitfalls of daily life has been enjoyed on television, exhibited by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the world." Similar blurbs are on the other books. I can't help but wondering why-if he is so famous-we haven't heard more about him and don't know more about him. Is he another Gary Larsen type? Maybe something he said to Jolee Edmondson will help us here: "People assume that I'm going to be a ball of laughs because of the things I draw. But if you take a close look at most humorists, like Norman Rockwell and Charles Schulz, they're often extremely low-key on the outside. But on the inside the game playing is going on all the time-it's bouncing off the walls. The humorist appreciates humor and can produce it, but he isn't necessarily the person who gets on the table and does the dance." He gives us everything he has to give in his art, and there isn't much left over for other venues. That's how I read that!
we don't have to feel too much in the dark because we can know just about
all we need to know about Patterson by looking really carefully at his
art on paper and on glass. His "art" goes by various names.
Jolee Edmondson calls him "kinky" but "on the mark."
I disagree with the "kinky" tag, but she couldn't be more correct
by observing that he's on the mark. I would add always. He calls what
he does "humor extracted from misery." Sometimes he calls his
work "drawings," and sometimes he calls it "cartoons."
It's all of these things. Anyone who looks at it closely can see and feel
that he loves exaggeration and he loves to put his characters in perilous,
threatening, horrific situations. His characters or subjects often look
confused, fearful, self-absorbed, self-important, obsessed, ridiculous,
helpless, unlucky, miserable, pathetic-REAL!! And that's the brilliant
thing about Patterson, I think: he can see the humor of ordinary people
involved in fairly ordinary everyday, harmless activities. He prides himself
on his accuracy in illustrating the various sports "conditions."
He counts on people recognizing themselves in his
Note: It turns out that my worst fears and suspicions were justified about the Thought Factory. I looked up and got a telephone listing for the Thought Factory, called it to get some last-minute information for this article and was informed by a very soft-spoken, aloof, and non-commital woman who informed me that the Thought Factory had "dissolved," that it was gone and she didn't know anything about it--nothing at all! I pushed for information because I suspected she was not telling me everything she knew, but basically I drew zeros and blanks. She must have thought I was a bill collector! I doubt now that we'll ever be hanging any of those clocks on our walls!
A Partial Patterson Glassography
Arby's 1982 Thought
Factory, 4 5/8" rocks, Set of 4:
Pepsi 1979 Thought
Factory, 5 1/4" rocks, Set of 12:
Pepsi Food Service
1980 Las Vegas Set of 6:
brown and yellow panel:
Mugs, 5 1/2",
brown and yellow panel:
Rocks, 4 3/8",
brown and yellow panels:
Milk Glass Pedestal
Mug, 4 3/4", brown and yellow panel:
Pedestal, 32 oz.
6 3/4", brown and yellow panels:
Ceramic Mug, light
brown, 4 5/8":
Ceramic Mug, 3
Contemporary Books, Inc., 180 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60601
Edmondson, Jolee. "He's Kinky, But On The Mark." Golf Magazine (Sept. 1978, v. 20), 52-53.
Hill, Dawn. "Time is Money: Clock Makers Try to Add Value." HFN, The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network (Oct. 16, 1995, v. 69, no. 42), 51-53.
Oman, Mark. Portrait of a Fitness Fanatic. Illustrations by Gary Patterson. A Thought Factory Book. Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1985.
Oman, Mark. Portrait of a Golfaholic. Illustrations by Gary Patterson. A Thought Factory Book. Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1984.
Philbrick, Nat. The Passionate Sailor. Illustrations by Gary Patterson. A Full Circle Book. Chicago & New York: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1987.
Rhodes, Robert V. Bah Koo: A Bedtime Story. Illustrated by Gary Patterson. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1986.
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