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By the Way: Lessons learned in artist’s life


People say age is just a number. I believe it’s much more than that – and it can be a very good thing.

This is Women’s History Month, and the New York Times took note. Headlines on a couple of essays about older women read “70 and Female Is the New Cool” and “I Am (an Older) Woman. Hear Me Roar.”

Psychologist Mary Pipher wrote, “Our country’s ideas about older women are so toxic that almost no one, no matter her age, will admit she is old.” She contends “…cultural scripts say women are old and useless and in the way – diminished versions of their former selves.”

I believe it’s time to put an end to that: Look at Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Look at actress Judi Dench. Both are in their 80s. Old and useless and in the way? Hardly.

I think of a friend of mine, a woman who taught me, a coffee drinker, to find cheer in a cup of Constant Comment. We giggle like teen-agers as we sip.

She is probably the sweetest and certainly one of the loveliest women I’ve ever known, beautiful in many ways, but all that is overshadowed by her commitment to the art that has driven her career. She is supremely talented and dedicated to her work.

She is Patricia Lichty Neely. “A Lesson Learned,” a children’s book she self-published four years ago, has been picked up, published by Christian Faith Publishing and distributed throughout North America.

She is busy illustrating the second and third books of her series.

Now in her 80s, she said, “I feel proud of that now. I got tired of hiding my age, burying all that.” Her admission is courageous.

Patty proves there is nothing necessarily diminished about older women. Unless misfortune and poverty intervene – and sometimes, even then – the love, kindness and steely determination honed by the inevitable ups and downs of a lifetime grow ever stronger.

Older women, and I include myself, and many others I know, can be lively, fun, and let’s not forget, formidable. Lots of us have more to pass on than our recipes.

In Patty’s case, it is her three books. Her experience with her American cocker spaniels, three from the same litter, led her to write and illustrate her “Wee Three” series of true stories for children. “A Lesson Learned,” the first book, shows how one puppy, Tuffy, learned a lesson the hard way from his sisters, Tiny and Cricket.

Patty and her husband, Marvin, live in Coopersburg now, after moving from Ottsville.

Originally from Pennsylvania Dutch country, Patty graduated from Linden Hall and the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design in Lancaster. As a young woman she was a finalist in the Miss Pennsylvania pageant, just nudged out by Evelyn Ay, who went on to become Miss America in the 1950s. Of the competition, Patty said, “I think that’s why I was able to write about Tuffy in ‘A Lesson Learned.’

He wanted that blue ribbon. I wanted that title and I understood how he felt.”

Motherhood put Patty’s fine arts career on hold for a while and then it blossomed as her daughter grew up. She carefully built a national reputation as a wildlife and animal artist. She is a thoughtful painter, studies her subjects and takes pride in the accuracy of her artwork. She uses light to create an incredible softness, a tender touch of layer upon layer of colors that sets her work apart. “I like the softness and I like to push myself out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Her cocker spaniels are long gone, but their stories have been germinating for years and she finally decided to share them with children. She was surprised and thrilled when the publisher saw her book and offered her a contract for the series.

Patty’s book is now available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes in hardcover, paperback and eBook versions.

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